In Politics, It's All About Timing, and Democratic Governors Could Use Some

05/12/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

For Democratic gubernatorial candidates, time is running out. And two uncontrollable forces are making their political lives exceedingly perilous.

First, they face an evaporating electorate. The 2008 presidential election set the high water mark for voter participation. This year's midterm elections, however, will likely see voter participation recede to 2006 levels or even lower.

In crucial gubernatorial races, turnout will be 25 to 45 percent lower this year than in 2008 with the drop-off most precipitous among independents and loosely-aligned partisan voters.

With fewer "swing voters" to appeal to, gubernatorial candidates of both parties will be forced to energize their base vote. And that's where the second force - persistent and pervasive unemployment - paints a big red target on the backs of Democratic gubernatorial candidates.

State and regional unemployment statistics lag behind the national numbers by two months. But the Bureau of Labor Statistics' January 2010 jobless numbers for eight key political states are depressing, truly depressing: Michigan's 14.3% official unemployment rate translates to 693,200 jobless residents. Illinois's rate is at 11.3% with 744,800 looking for work; Ohio is at 10.8% with 640,800 unemployed; Tennessee is at 10.7% with 322,200 residents laid off; and Wisconsin's 8.7% rate still leaves 258,200 of the state's voting age adults without a job.

In Republican toss up states, California has 2.27 million unemployed and a 12.5% official unemployment rate. Florida has 1.1 million jobless residents and an 11.9%rate. And Nevada tops both states with a 13% rate and 178,500 out of work.

But these rates of unemployment are only the "official" rates. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) numbers quoted throughout this article represent only half the real unemployment. They exclude those who are working part-time involuntarily, the marginally attached, and those who have looked for a job in the last year but could not find one. These three other categories add 15 million more American workers to the total national unemployment rolls.

And unemployed workers are significantly less likely to vote in elections than are employed workers. A U.S. Census study of the 2006 mid-term elections found that among unemployed workers registered to vote only 57.8% did so, whereas 70.1% of employed registered voters did. And the problem upcoming in November 2010 for Democratic incumbents and challengers is that unemployment is impacting Democratic strongholds especially hard.

In large metropolitan areas - the traditional Democratic base - residents are facing Depression-level official numbers. The Detroit area has a 15.3% unemployment rate; Chicago is at 11.1% while Memphis is at 10.6%; Cleveland, Columbus and Cincinnati are between 9.0 and 9.9%; and Milwaukee is at 8.6%.

And again, these are just the official numbers. Doubling these rates provides a more realistic picture of the size and scope of the problem facing Democratic incumbents, candidates and challengers, a picture and a scope which are dramatically for our nation's minority and immigrant communities, where real rates of unemployment approach 50%.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates for November 2010 - incumbents and challengers alike - must be totally frustrated with the White House and the Democratically-controlled Congress right now when they see the relative inattention being paid to the jobless numbers of our Party's traditional base vote, and itty-bitty seriatim jobs bills which are no match for the pain being inflicted on the nearly 30 million Americans effectively idled by the Great Recession of 2007.

Losing the Virginia and New Jersey governors races - and then the Massachusetts Senate race - should have galvanized Democrats at both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue to action. But this 0-for-3 streak did not - instead, they went back to bickering over health care reform while giving only lip service to "jobs, jobs, jobs."

Even if a massive jobs bill cleared the Congress today and President Barack Obama signed it into law tomorrow, the federal bureaucracy would be hard pressed to implement it by the November midterm elections - but of course no such massive jobs bill has even been introduced.

So in November when the questions turns to what have you done for me lately, the jobless may have a ready answer: Hardly a darn thing!

And if they do, then as for our Democratic gubernatorial hopefuls, it could be, "Katy, bar the door!"