Unlike during presidential elections when the national employment situation in the minds of many voters directly correlates to who they'll choose for commander in chief, midterm elections are more local. North Dakota Incumbent Rep. Kevin Cramer oversees a district (the entire state) with a 2.4% unemployment rate -- the nation's best. House incumbents in Nevada face 8.5% state unemployment -- second worst.
What works for an election in Nebraska likely won't be exactly the same to a New Jersey House race, but it's also important to know that jobs and the economy are critical regardless.
"It's subliminal," McSweeney said. "People are conscious of it when a pollster asks. It is not as easily identified as Obamacare but it's a pervasive issue."
Both parties understand this, and Republicans are attempting to turn bread-and-butter Democratic platforms into referendums on jobs, DiMartino said.
The Republican message about Obamacare is that it's killing jobs. Even though Obamacare isn't near its full implementation and it appears more likely that the employer mandate will perish, the GOP is attempting to convince voters that small businesses are being hurt by the landmark health care legislation passed by Democrats.
This isn't to say that the Affordable Care Act won't affect employers' hiring practices, but not enough evidence exists in the market place to say the ACA is depressing the possibility of robust labor growth.
Immigration, which failed to gain enough traction in 2013 to pass any legislation, is regaining momentum, as exemplified by an outcry among the Republican caucus at House Speaker John Boehner for mocking his party about immigration reform being too difficult. DiMartino argued that the GOP is turning immigration reform into a jobs discussion by saying it could hurt American workers.
But Democrats who are trying to focus on issues that steer from jobs and the economy are also doing so because the recovery remains a work in progress.
"We've had almost five years of this, and the meager performance of the economy hasn't helped them a bit," McSweeney said.
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and all of her living predecessors say they've never experienced a slow recovery like this. Of course, Yellen and Ben Bernanke weren't born until after World War II, and Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan weren't even 5 years old when the Great Depression started. But this type of rhetoric is a reminder that economic growth since the end of the Great Recession is tepid. Only after years of monetary stimulus, massive bailouts of the financial industry and emergency fiscal stimulus have we reached a point where the S&P 500 -- the nation's benchmark stock market index -- is posting all-time highs again. Adjusted for inflation, the S&P technically hasn't reached a new high since before the recession.
Democratic candidates likely won't convince many undecided voters with those gritty details.
What it all comes down to, then, is who delivers a better message that sticks in the minds of constituents.
Investors who shun politics can relax, knowing that midterm elections won't disrupt markets (no one wants to pass massive legislative reform before elections) and critical economic indicators like the jobs report are trending in a positive direction without much indication that a huge reversal remains ahead. But "everyday folks" who continue to scrape by know that job statuses can change quickly.
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-- Written by Joe Deaux in New York.
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