Arlington, Virginia (CNN) – For congressional Democrats, the not-at-all-secret password this year is … jobs. They want to convince voters that they are working tirelessly to create them and thus regain some of the political momentum they have lost.
But the employment hole is deep. Can Democrats climb out of it by November?
Electoral odds maker Charlie Cook on Monday gave a grim assessment of their chances.
The unemployment rate, currently 9.7 percent, would have to fall about 1 percentage point by November for Democrats to proclaim "mission accomplished," he said. Cook, who runs the non-partisan Cook Political Report, spoke at the annual policy conference of the National Association for Business Economics, a leading group of professional economy watchers.
Even a continuation of the year-long stock market rally wouldn't help the Democrats much.
"The market could go up substantially and I don't think it's likely to change the outcome," Cook said. "In terms of politics, [voters] are really only aware of unemployment."
The big problem for Democrats: The odds of a noticeable improvement in unemployment are long. Many economists expect the jobless rate to hover near 10 percent through the rest of the year.
In fact, Congressional Budget Office Director Douglas Elmendorf, who spoke at the conference after Cook, said the rate will likely average near 10 percent this year. It will be 2012, he said, before it gets down to about 8 percent.