As the federal government officially enters its first shutdown in 17 years, local political candidates for office on both sides of the aisle are using the stalemate in Washington to further their own ambitions.
Virginia's Republican attorney general and gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli and several of his allies in the national and local branches of the party have been decrying a potential shutdown for weeks in an effort to link his Democratic competitor, Terry McAuliffe, a former head of the Democratic National Committee, to a culture of brinksmanship and refusal to negotiate (they claim, on the part of Democrats) in Washington.
In a Sept. 25 televised debate, Cuccinelli, behind in most public polls of the governor's race, attempted to link McAuliffe to Washington after McAuliffe made statements that he would veto any budget that did not include a Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. The two sparred over that point throughout the debate.
Tuesday, following the start of the Washington shutdown, Cuccinelli issued a statement lamenting the failure of President Obama and Congress to "work together" to prevent such a shutdown, noting that there are nearly 175,000 Virginians who are employed by the federal government and criticizing McAuliffe and Democrats for "draw[ing] red lines."
"While we're all frustrated by what’s going on, what has surprised me most of all has been the steadfast refusal on the part of Democrats – led by President Obama and Harry Reid – to even sit at the negotiating table,” Cuccinelli said. "Of course, it's not surprising that Terry McAuliffe, who has redefined what it means to be a Washington insider, is trying to score political points over a government shutdown that is going to affect hundreds of thousands of Virginians. The reality is, he's the only candidate in this race who has repeatedly called for a shutdown of Virginia's government when he said he would not sign a state budget that did not include the ObamaCare Medicaid expansion. ... The bottom line in Virginia's Governor’s race is this: if Virginians like what they're seeing in Washington right now, they have a candidate in Terry McAuliffe who will replicate that intransigence and failure."
One of Cuccinelli's longtime allies during his time as a state senator, Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment Jr. (R-James City, Poquoson, Hampton, Suffolk, Isle of Wight, York, New Kent, Gloucester, King William, King and Queen Counties) also issued a statement blasting McAuliffe.
"The looming government shutdown over the budget standoff in Washington serves as a reminder that Virginia's capital and our nation's capital are very different,” Norment said. "Virginia may not be perfect, but it is not Washington, either.
"With his self-professed commitment to shut down Virginia government unless ObamaCare's Medicaid expansion scheme is enacted, Terry McAuliffe reminds us again that he is a member of the Washington establishment. And, he will readily employ the tactics that have become commonplace there. Just because holding our schools, public safety, and transportation system hostage have become part of the regular order of business in Washington doesn't mean the tactic should be replicated in Richmond. To ensure what is happening in Washington now doesn't recur next spring in Richmond, Virginians should reject Terry McAuliffe on November 5."
Del. Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax, Prince William counties), an archconservative from the Centreville area and the House Republican Caucus chairman, also piled on, calling it "high comedy" that McAuliffe should be concerned about a government shutdown due to his veto pledge regarding the Medicaid expansion.
"The threat is huge: do what I want, or your schools don’t open on time. Your transportation projects shut down. Now his campaign is trying to walk it back, noting that on occasion Terry McAuliffe will say 'please.' Saying 'please' doesn’t make that much difference when you’re holding someone at gunpoint. This is the worst kind of Washington brinksmanship, and it has no place in Richmond."
Democrats also criticized Republicans for their intransigence, with McAuliffe previously having called on Cuccinelli, prior to the shutdown, to lead his fellow Republicans to a bipartisan compromise on a continuing resolution during an interview with Charlottesville-area station NBC29.
Following the shutdown, Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudoun, Fairfax counties), the Democratic candidate for attorney general, blasted his Republican Tea Party-endorsed opponent, Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg, Rockingham, Page, Warren, Rappahannock, Shenandoah counties) for failing to condemn the congressional "tea party" faction's role in the stalemate in Washington, continuing his campaign’s attempts to paint Obenshain as an extremist.
"It's shameful that Mark Obenshain has yet to condemn his Tea Party pals on Capitol Hill and their political grandstanding that has led to a Federal government shutdown," Herring said in a statement. "This will have devastating effects all across Virginia, it will hamper our economic recovery and it could delay benefit payments to veterans throughout the Commonwealth. ... This is exactly the type of leadership we can expect from the Tea Party ticket: divisive politics and gridlock that weakens Virginia's economy and harms Virginia's families. Virginians have suffered enough under Ken Cuccinelli’s and Mark Obenshain’s Tea Party agendas. They're ready for fundamental change."
The liberal-leaning Super PAC American Bridge 21st Century also rushed to defend Democrats from Republican attacks, asking website visitors to sign a petition demanding that Cuccinelli cancel a scheduled campaign event with U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).
The political action committee also hit Cuccinelli for calling for more politicians like Cruz during a Republican campaign event in 2012. In a video posted to American Bridge's website Monday, Cuccinelli tells the crowd: "You know, you get more Ted Cruzes in there to back up Jim DeMint and you have less to worry about. You want to elect people you don't have to lobby. Sort of launch and leave missiles, politically speaking. Ted Cruz is a good one and he's a smart missile."
The back-and-forth between the two parties is expected to continue, particularly as the campaign for statewide and local offices ratchets up in the final month before November's election.
But commentary was not only coming from Virginia sources. Across the Potomac, in Maryland, where Del. Heather Mizeur (D-Montgomery Co.) is seeking the Democratic nomination to become Maryland's first female governor and the nation's first out lesbian governor in 2014, Mizeur criticized the failure of the federal government to avoid a shutdown but also sought to portray herself as a consensus builder, in contrast with her opponents, particularly primary challengers Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Attorney General Doug Gansler.
"Maryland is paying dearly for the political grandstanding happening in Washington: every day the government is shut down, we stand to lose $5 million in revenue. Our families face possible furloughs; our businesses lose sales," Mizeur said in a statement. "Conservatives in Congress have to stop playing politics with our livelihood. It’s time to end top-down partisan politics as usual.
"Government is at its best when we bring people together to solve big problems with big ideas. In Annapolis, we can set that example and work together putting our families before our political squabbles, never picking winners and losers or haves and have nots. The longer Washington continues its dysfunction, and leaders insist on ransom notes and 'my way or the highway' governing, the more important state government becomes for real progressive change and true investments in the future of our country."
[Photo 1: Ken Cuccinelli (courtesy of the Office of the Attorney General). Photo 2: Heather Mizeur (courtesy of the Mizeur campaign).]