Democrats and Republicans are playing up the nation's economic situation, asking Americans to give President Obama four more years to whip the economy back into shape or elect presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and install his economic plans.
Across the country, Democrats must defend the nation's stubbornly stagnant economy in competitive states hit hard by the recession such as Michigan, Florida and Nevada.
Party leaders often note the nation has added jobs since President Barack Obama took office, even as the unemployment rate crept back up to 8.2 percent in May from 8.1 percent the previous month.
And in states where the unemployment rate is less than 5 percent, Democrats still must make the case Obama's economic policies are working, Roll Call reported.
"The general Republican argument is about failure, and that's a harder argument to make in places that are doing well," said Mark Mellman, a top Democratic pollster working in North Dakota, Nevada, Virginia and other top Senate race states.
In Nebraska, for example, the unemployment rate was 3.9 percent in April, thanks to a strong commodities sector, Roll Call said. But voters cite the economy as their primary concern in public polls.
It's a struggle for Democrats to explain, said former U.S. Sen. Bob Kerrey, a Democrat locked in a tough race against state Sen. Deb Fischer for the Senate seat being vacated by Democrat Ben Nelson.
"Democrats find themselves on the defensive," Kerrey said. "Moreover, the focus tends to be more on deficits -- and it's harder for Democrats to make the case that we haven't contributed to those deficits because of stimulus and [the Troubled Asset Relief Program]."
In swing states, that handful of states considered absolutely vital to a candidate's chances of winning the White House, the economy takes on added importance. RealClearPolitics.com identified Florida, Ohio, Virginia, Wisconsin, Colorado, Nevada, Pennsylvania, Iowa, New Hampshire and North Carolina as swing states.
Pundits note states with higher-than-average unemployment that typically vote for one party likely will remain with that party, despite the punk numbers.
Five key swing states have unemployment rates that are below the national average, 8.2 percent as of June 8 -- good news for Obama. New Hampshire's rate is 5 percent, Iowa is at 5.1 percent, Virginia is at 5.6, Ohio is 7.4, and Colorado, 7.9.
Three swing states have jobless rates higher than the national average: Florida, 8.7 percent; North Carolina, 9.4 percent, and Nevada, 11.7 percent, the highest in the country.
CBS News said in the states at the high end of unemployment, a downward trend could favor Obama.
Take Nevada: The unemployment rate was 13.8 percent last August, more than 2 percentage points higher than now. The difference between then and now is one of the biggest downward bends in the country and suggests the line could drop further, CBS said.
Florida and North Carolina, too, also have seen their jobless rates drop.
But in the battle to bask as a jobs creator, who should take more credit?
Obama, during a recent news conference, said, "We've created 4.3 million new jobs over the last 27 months, over 800,000 just this year alone."
Yet Republican governors in swing states say they deserve the credit.
In the critical swing state of Ohio, Gov. John Kasich has said that he created a business-friendly environment in his state by opposing business regulations, telling Fox News recently, "What is causing us not to grow as fast as we should in Ohio is uncertainty."
Swing states do just that -- they swing. Sometimes into that select few and sometimes out.
Republican strategist Chip Saltzman said on MSNBC.com once a swing state doesn't mean always a swing state.
"Swing states are changing. It used to be Missouri was the bellwether state," Saltzman said. "Now we tend to focus on Florida and Ohio and some other states. Every campaign brings a different set of swing states. … [Every] campaign is unique and the swing states change. We have a few like Ohio that always seem to be there, but for the most part, they're pretty movable.
The economy isn't the only battleground in the battleground states for Romney and Obama. There are key voting blocs: women and Hispanics.
Obama has lost a bit of his appeal among women voters since 2008 when he captured 56 percent of the female vote although he still holds a double-digit lead over Romney, 52 percent to 41 percent, Forbes reported recently.
Dianne Bystrom, director of the Carrie Chapman Catt Center for Women and Politics at Iowa State University, told Forbes more women are registered to vote than men in most states and more women turn out to vote.
"It's sheer numbers," she said.
In the 2008 election, 60.4 percent of the female population more than 18 went to the polls compared with a little less than 56 percent of men.
In Forbes' ranking, Virginian women could be the most sought-after voters this November. Virginia has 13 electoral votes and is considered a definitive swing state for the presidential election.
In the waning days of the campaign, after candidates spoke at breakfast meetings, stumped at fairgrounds and had their fill of chicken dinners, "soccer moms" come into play, Susan Carroll, a senior scholar at the Center for American Women and Politics at Rutgers University
Why? Because in the undecided column, candidates recognize that "traditionally … these voters are women," Carroll said.
"Women voters are incredibly important at the end of an election cycle," she said. "They're the voters who are up for grabs and candidates are prepared to win them over on the issues that matter most."
Behind Virginia, the swing states where women voters matter most are North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Florida, Wisconsin, Iowa, Colorado, New Mexico and New Hampshire, according to the Forbes rankings.
The only battleground state where women don't out-vote men is Nevada, which missed Forbes' rankings by only 10,000 votes.
Obama, Romney and their allies also have begun pitching to Hispanic voters in states where this critical voting bloc could play a decisive role on Election Day.
Priorities USA Action, the pro-Obama super PAC, and Service Employees International Union, one of the nation's largest labor groups, have begun a $4 million Spanish-language television ad campaign attacking Romney's economic experience running in Colorado, Nevada and Florida, ABC News said.
Obama for America, the president's re-election committee, has been running ads in the same states, including flights of Spanish-language TV ads featuring Hispanic supporters testifying about the positive impact of Obama's policies.
Romney and Republicans also launched a national Hispanic outreach effort led by Carlos Gutierrez, who was commerce secretary for President George W. Bush. The push includes a series of Web and TV ads that focus on the economy, ABC News said.
The laser beam on Hispanics by both camps highlights their pending influence in key battlegrounds this fall when an estimated 12 million are expected to vote. That's up 26 percent from 2008, projections by the National Association of Latino Elected Officials indicate.
Obama leads Romney nationwide among Hispanics, 67 percent to 26 percent, a recent Gallup poll indicated. Many Republicans also acknowledge Romney faces an uphill challenge with that constituency heading into November.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican and possible Romney running mate, told ABC New Latinos "have been alienated" by the GOP campaign this year, taking aim at Romney's immigration policy of "self-deportation."
Meanwhile, the AFL-CIO, the country's largest labor federation, said it would aggressively challenge voter identification laws in about six states considered battlegrounds that will be key in the presidential election, The Hill reported.
AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Arlene Holt Baker said the labor federation will be registering and helping voters in Florida, Michigan, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin working with the organizations political program.
Labor is one of several organizations pushing back against voter ID laws, saying they suppress voting by minorities, the elderly, the poor and students -- groups that tend to vote Democratic. Voter ID law supporters say such measures are needed to reduce fraud and protect the integrity of elections.
"This year, we will be running the strongest voter protection program ever," Holt Baker said, calling voter ID requirement modern-day Jim Crow laws. "This will be our most aggressive push, and we have never done anything on this scale before because the attacks that we are seeing on the right to vote are unprecedented."
The AFL-CIO said it plans to partner with groups such as the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, Generational Alliance and the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement.
"In the past year, we have seen more states pass more laws pushing more voters out of the ballot box than we have seen in a 12-month period in the past century," NAACP President Benjamin Jealous said.
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