Every jobs report has political significance given the extent to which Republicans and Democrats attempt to spin the numbers to their best advantage. But this Friday's March employment report is especially critical following the weak winter numbers and the impending midterm election season.
Democrats are fervently hoping that the lackluster reports over the last three months were mostly the result of a brutal winter that delayed construction projects and slowed other industries that might otherwise have hired more workers.
Most analysts right now agree that is probably the case. The consensus forecast for Friday's jobs number is 200,000 with the unemployment rate ticking down to 6.6 percent from 6.7 percent.
But the whisper number among Wall Street analysts is higher, closer to 250,000, which would be back around the pace from the fall when most were predicting a strong 2014 for the economy.
On CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Monday, I asked Pantheon Macroeconomics chief Ian Shepherdson if he thought the number might beat expectations by a significant margin. Shepherdson, who is officially calling for a gain of 250,000, said, "If the number were over 300,000 I would not fall off my chair."
Such a number would be a huge relief to Democrats. The party is already facing a drag from the health-care law and an unpopular president in their efforts to limit almost certain losses in the House and prevent a GOP takeover of the Senate. Running on a decelerating economy would spell disaster for Democrats.
Even the status quo, modest monthly job gains of around 200,000 with similarly paltry earnings increases, would be fairly bad for the party that controls the White House and Senate.
Democrats, led by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., are attempting to turn the tepid economy to their advantage by arguing that Republicans are blocking things that might help, such as boosting the minimum wage, immigration reform and equal pay for women.
Those issues poll well and could help the party gain at least a little bit of traction, especially by energizing base voters Democrats desperately need to show up to the polls on Nov. 4.
But the "Fair Shot" agenda, as the Democrats are calling it, is a backup strategy to stanch the bleeding in the midterms. To really hold back Republicans in an election in which the historical trend and issue environment favor them, Democrats will need to point to a strengthening economy and make the case that Obama deserves credit for it.
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Mohamed El-Erian, the former co-head of Pimco and now the chief economic advisor to Allianz, argues that the bigger gains of late last year will be hard to repeat.
"[D]o not look for Friday's data release to signal a material change in the overall conditions of the country's labor market," El-Erian wrote over the weekend. "The easy gains are now behind us"
Jobs gains of the kind we've seen over the last year also are clearly not enough to change voters' very sour mood toward the economy , which most view as bad and getting worse despite the steady employment gains the White House likes to point to as signs of progress.
The numbers would have to rise significantly-along with wages-to really turn people's attitudes around and create a friendlier electoral environment for Democrats. And that's not likely to happen until the small business sector, which has resisted spending in the wake of Washington fiscal fights, finally starts believing in the current era of relative domestic political stability and begins replacing old equipment and adding staff.
If Democrats really want to find signs of economic hope they should be looking to the National Federation of Independent Business's optimism index, which cratered following the financial crisis and remains in distressed territory.
Once that starts picking up, the jobs numbers should follow. But every prediction of a renaissance in small business spending has thus far proved incorrect.
There is also the risk that if Democrats get what they want this spring and summer-faster growth and job creation-the Federal Reserve will then push forward its timetable for drawing down stimulus and eventually nudging up rates.
Should that happen, the stock market, at least in the short term, will face a possibly significant sell-off. That would then translate directly into lower consumer confidence.
So there is at least an outside chance that Democrats could lose by winning.
-By Ben White. White is POLITICO's chief economic correspondent and a CNBC contributor. He also authors the daily tip sheet POLITICO Morning Money [politico.com/morningmoney]. Follow him on Twitter @morningmoneyben.
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