Democrats on the jobs report: Phew!


That giant whooshing sound you hear? It's everyone in the White House and on the Democratic side of Capitol Hill breathing a collective sigh of relief over the February employment report showing a gain of 175,000 jobs, which beat expectations.

The report, which also showed an increase in the size of the labor force, will quiet growing fears of another early-year economic swoon. The February number followed two very lackluster months and puts the pace of job creation back closer to what it was at the end of 2013.

It's a relief for President Barack Obama and Democrats who faced the prospect of dealing with a crummy economy in a midterm election season in which they already face fallout from the unpopular health care law. In addition, the party that controls the White House tends to lose seats in the sixth year of an incumbent president's tenure.

President Barack Obama
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The 2014 midterms are still going to be a tough slog for Democrats, who will almost certainly drop some seats in the House and face the real prospect of losing control of the Senate. But the odds of Democrats limiting GOP gains are a great deal better in an improving economy than a stagnant one.

And at least for the moment, the rosy predictions for economic growth this year of at least three percent seem much less fanciful than they did after the last two jobs reports.

Nearly all of the numbers in the February were positive, and the gains may actually understate the health of the economy.

(Read more: GOP presidential race wide open, no matter what you're hearing)

Construction added just 15,000 jobs, possibly reflecting a lack of activity during the brutally cold winter.

Some analysts believe the March jobs report--which will come out next month--could be a blockbuster if employers in construction and other fields add workers they otherwise would have earlier in the year.

Average hourly earnings rose by a surprising 9 cents to $24.31, a welcome change in a statistic that has been painfully flat. However, the workweek edge down by 0.1 hours to 34.2 hours, possibly reflecting the cold winter. So the higher earnings may just be a result of salaried employees' wages being averaged over a shorter workweek.

Nothing in the February report is likely to change the Federal Reserve's current plans. The report is strong enough to keep the $10-billion-per-month taper of asset purchases in place. But it is not strong enough to increase the pace of the taper or quicken the timetable to eventually increase interest rates.

(Read more: Job creation accelerates in February)

Fed Chair Janet Yellen and the rest of the Fed's Open Markets Committee lean toward 2015-2016 as the earliest possible dates for interest rate hikes. Essentially, the Fed wants to get out of the way and not have any of its moves play a big role in the 2014 elections. Eventually we will have to talk about the Fed's role in the 2016 presidential race but that's still a ways off.

The White House was quick to embrace the jobs report. "February 2014 was the 48th straight month of private-sector job growth," Jason Furman, chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said in a statement. "Despite a major snowstorm that hit the East Coast during the reference week for the labor market surveys, the rate of job growth picked up from the December and January pace."

Furman also used the report to press for an extension in emergency unemployment insurance citing the increase in the jobless rate to 6.6 percent from 6.5 percent and for the infrastructure spending plans contained in the budget President Obama sent to Capitol Hill this week.

Panel predicts the payrolls!

Republicans said the report, while better than recent months, still showed an economy operating far from its potential.

"This jobs report still isn't good enough," Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, said in a statement. "We have essentially lost a decade of opportunity due to a continually weak economy, and it is clear that at this rate we are drifting toward losing a generation."

Camp also touted a tax reform proposal he introduced last week that would lower the overall corporate rate while closing a number of loopholes favored by wealthy taxpayers.

Both Obama's spending plans and Camp's tax proposals are going nowhere in the current Congress. But they frame the midterm campaign about to unfold.

(Read more: Top Obamacare official resigning at end of the month)

Democrats are banking on the economy being just good enough not to hurt them while appealing to middle and lower-income voters with policies like a higher-minimum wage and enhanced and subsidized health care benefits.

Republicans, largely freed from distracting battles over the debt limit and keeping the government open, hope to convince Americans that the economy can do a great deal better if only they get control of both houses of Congress.

—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.