Some Democrats endangered by high jobless rates in their districts

Local unemployment rates higher than the national 9.7 average are further endangering House Democrats’ re-election chances.

For these Democrats, who hail from struggling states like Florida, Michigan, West Virginia, and Nevada, a 9.7 percent jobless rate that Republicans have called “completely unacceptable” would be a welcome improvement.

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Vulnerable freshman Democratic Reps. Suzanne Kosmas and Alan Grayson represent swing districts that include parts of greater Orlando, where the unemployment rate in January 2010 was 12.4 percent.

Kosmas, a major GOP target this fall, represents a district that also contains the metropolitan area of Deltona and Daytona Beach, where 13 percent of the labor force was out of work.

“Where things are particularly bad, Democrats are in particular danger,” said David Wasserman, House editor for the Cook Political Report.

Democrats are working to get the word out on what they’re doing to help their constituents.

“People in central Florida know I'm working hard to make the situation better,” Grayson, another big GOP target, told The Hill.

He pointed to his success in bringing $100 million in federal grants to his district as well as his effort to launch a housing mediation program to help struggling homeowners avoid foreclosure. He also boasted of a sizable fund-raising advantage over his campaign opponents this fall.

The lawmakers facing pressure are not just the freshmen who entered Congress in 2008 on the wave of support for President Barack Obama.

Sky-high unemployment could threaten Democrats whose seats had previously been considered safe, Wasserman said.

In Merced, Calif., the jobless rate in January stood at 21.7 percent, the second-highest rate in the nation.

Democratic Rep. Dennis Cardoza has represented the area since 2003, and Wasserman said he has listed Cardoza’s upcoming race as competitive solely because of the dismal local economy.

Democrats were already facing a difficult mid-term election. Historically the party in control of Congress and the White House loses seats in a mid-term.

But for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the economy could decide whether she keeps her majority.

Charlie Cook, the editor and founder of the Cook Political Report, said before the healthcare bill passed the House that Republicans could take over the majority this fall.

Democrats did get some good news on Friday, when the March report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the economy added 162,000 jobs but the unemployment rate holding steady at 9.7 percent.

Pelosi hailed the numbers and credited the $787 billion stimulus and other actions the House has taken under her leadership. She also pledged a renewed legislative focus on the economy and job creation.

Not every lawmaker with a high local unemployment rate is in trouble. Rep. Bob Filner represents El Centro, Calif., which at 27.3 percent has the nation’s highest local unemployment rate, but he won his 2008 race with more than 70 percent of the vote.

On the other hand, a stable local economy doesn’t guarantee an easy race.

The lowest unemployment rates are in Bismarck and Fargo, N.D., where less than 5 percent of the labor force is without jobs. Yet North Dakota’s at-large congressman, Rep. Earl Pomeroy, could face a difficult re-election bid in a state that has gone Republican in recent national elections.

Here are five vulnerable Democrats with local unemployment rates well above the symbolic 10 percent marker:

Alan Grayson – Florida’s 8th district

A liberal Democrat elected in 2008, Grayson’ s district includes part of Orlando, where the unemployment rate shot up from 8.8 percent to 12.4 percent in 2009. Grayson is one of the best-known freshmen; he’s made a series of colorful comments that have made him a regular presence on well-known liberal blogs and boosted his fundraising.

Suzanne Kosmas – Florida’s 24th district

Another freshman lawmaker, Kosmas represents the Orlando suburbs and parts of Deltona and Daytona Beach, where the jobless rate hit 13 percent in January 2010. Yet her district also includes Cape Canaveral, and her re-election could hinge on the fight over NASA policy as much as the economy and her vote for health care.

Mark Schauer – Michigan’s 7th district

Schauer’s district includes an area – Jackson, Mich. – with the highest unemployment rate – 15.2 percent - of any Democrat whose race is listed as a toss-up in the Cook Political Report. Yet the saving grace for Schauer may be that his district has been hard-hit for years. “A dismal economy is not a new issue in his neck of the woods,” Wasserman said.

Dina Titus – Nevada’s 3rd district

Titus, elected in 2008, represents Las Vegas, which had a jobless rate of 13.8 percent in 2010. She will also be running in a state where the top of the ticket, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, is struggling mightily to hold on to his own seat.

Alan Mollohan – West Virginia’s 1st district

Mollohan, a Democrat first elected in 1982, has seen unemployment soar in parts of his West Virginia district. Much of his district is facing double-digit unemployment, including Weirton, a city near the Ohio border, which had the third-largest spike in joblessness in 2009.

Six Republicans are competing to take on Mollohan in a district that Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) won with 57 percent of the vote in the 2008 presidential campaign.