WASHINGTON — Just days before congressional elections, government reports released Friday depict a grim U.S. economic picture that’s expected to lead to big losses by President Barack Obama’s Democrats.
Voters dissatisfied with the country’s slow recovery from the recession are likely to punish Obama’s party, costing them control of the House of Representatives and possibly the Senate. All 435 House seats and 37 of the 100 Senate seats are on the ballot Tuesday.
The Commerce Department said Friday that the economy expanded at a 2 per cent annual rate in the July-September quarter. That marked an improvement from the feeble 1.7 per cent growth in the April-June quarter, but the economy still isn’t growing at a strong enough pace to make a noticeable dent in the high unemployment rate of just under 10 per cent. Nearly 15 million Americans are out of work.
Obama, who isn’t on the ballot himself for another two years, has been campaigning heavily for Democratic candidates to avoid a Republican-controlled Congress that could bring his agenda to a near standstill halfway through his term.
On Friday, Obama told a campaign event in Maryland that his mission is to accelerate the economy’s recovery. The president spoke just hours after the Commerce Department gave the last snapshot of the country’s economic health before voters go to the polls.
Obama called attention to a proposal he said would help businesses create jobs. The president wants Congress to allow businesses to deduct 100 per cent of the cost of certain investments, such as new equipment, through the end of 2011. Businesses now can deduct half of such costs.
Obama says such a break would leave businesses with extra money they could use for hiring or additional investments.
Obama was to move on later to nearby Virginia for a campaign rally for Democratic Rep. Tom Perriello, who was swept into office by a narrow margin in a Republican-leaning district in the 2008 Democratic wave that elected the country’s first African-American president. This year, Perriello is among the more vulnerable Democratic incumbents in what is shaping up to be a Republican election wave spurred by discontent over the sputtering economy and high unemployment.
Former President Bill Clinton also has been jumping back into the political spotlight to minimize losses for his party, hoping to remind voters of better economic times during his eight years in the White House.
This week, Clinton was in Pennsylvania to try to sway a pivotal Senate race for Democrat Joe Sestak, a House member who is locked in a tight race with Republican Pat Toomey, a former congressman. The contest is considered essential for Republicans if they are to have any chance of taking control of the Senate.
Clinton may also be doing some behind-the-scenes work for Democrats as reports emerged Thursday night that he almost succeeded in getting the trailing Democratic Senate candidate in Florida to drop out and endorse the state’s independent governor. The three-way Senate race is led by a Republican who is backed by the ultraconservative tea party movement.
Polls in Florida show that Democrat Kendrick Meek is far behind Republican Marco Rubio as well as Governor Charlie Crist, a moderate Republican who opted to run as an independent when he trailed Rubio ahead of the party’s primary.
If a deal for Meek to drop out had been struck, Crist would have been expected to side with the Democrats in the Senate.
Meek went on national morning TV news shows Friday to swat down the reports. He said he had talked with Clinton about the idea while the ex-president was campaigning for Meek. He said Clinton privately asked him about rumours that he would quit the campaign.
“I told him I didn’t have any thoughts about getting out of the race. He didn’t encourage me to get out of the race,” Meek said on ABC’s “Good Morning America”.
Meek said it was Crist who had suggested the idea to Meek. He told CNN that Crist had also called Clinton’s office “trying to persuade them to get me out of this race.”
Meek on Thursday said a report by the Politico website that was confirmed by a Clinton spokesman “was inaccurate at best” that the former president while campaigning in Florida last week asked him to withdraw.
Clinton acknowledged during an interview aired on CNN that Meek wanted to discuss the possibility of withdrawing, so they did. He did not say he asked Meek to quit.
Crist’s camp said the Politico report was accurate.
Experts say Crist would need the Democrats who are now backing Meek to even have a shot at winning.
Democratic Party Chairman Tim Kaine, appearing on CBS’s “The Early Show,” said he has heard nothing about any discussion between Clinton and Meek about Meek withdrawing from the race. He said the party has invested heavily in the Florida race and is putting its muscle behind Meek.