The key number in next year’s U.S. congressional election may be the unemployment rate, which last month hit a 26-year high of 9.8 percent.
The figure helps explain why creating jobs is a top priority in the Democratic-led Congress where lawmakers know their own jobs are at stake if they fail to deliver.
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Democrats will get an early whiff of whether they are being blamed for the economy tomorrow, when voters go to the polls to elect governors of New Jersey and Virginia and a congressman in a conservative-leaning New York district bordering Canada.
In next year’s election, the Democrats face a head wind. The party in power typically loses seats in the election after a new president — in this case Barack Obama — takes office.
The wind could become a storm if the ranks of the unemployed swell. The rate is widely forecast to top 10 percent before going down.
Analysts say a double-digit jobless rate on Election Day in November 2010 could help cost Democrats upward of two dozen seats in the House of Representatives, which they now hold, 256-177, with two vacancies. It could also cost them in the Senate, which they control, 60-40.
“The election is going to be about three issues: jobs, jobs, jobs,” said Ethan Siegal of The Washington Exchange, a private firm that tracks Congress and the White House for institutional investors.