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POLITICS: PennAve

Shutdown takes center stage in Virginia governor race

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Virginia,Steve Contorno,Terry McAuliffe,Ken Cuccinelli,Campaigns,PennAve,Larry Sabato,2013 Virginia Governor Race,Government Shutdown

The shutdown of the federal government is throwing a potential wrench in the Virginia governor's race with a large number of the now-furloughed workers living in the Old Dominion.

Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli are scrambling to assign blame or at least associate their opponent with the dysfunction across the Potomac. As the clock struck midnight and the government officially shut down, the two campaigns were quick to capitalize on the doom and gloom with dueling press releases pointing fingers.

McAuliffe said his Republican opponent was "more concerned with appeasing his extreme Tea Party allies than protecting the economic well-being of Virginia."

Cuccinelli charged that McAuliffe "is trying to score political points over a government shutdown that is going to affect hundreds of thousands of Virginians."

It's a particularly tough tightrope to walk for Cuccinelli, the state's conservative attorney general who is trailing in the race by about four points. While he has insisted repeatedly he is against a government shutdown, later this week he will hold a fundraiser hosted by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas firebrand who Democrats, and even some GOP lawmakers, blame for the mess. Cuccinelli was an early adversary of the new federal healthcare law, the focus of Republican anger in Washington.

Against the criticism, Cuccinelli has shot back that McAuliffe has sided with Democrats who are unwilling to negotiate on Obamacare to avoid a shutdown. In a new web ad specifically targeting Northern Virginia workers who are sitting at home, he insists that Washington-style budget crises would be the norm under a Governor McAuliffe.

Through a series of newspaper clippings and ominous music, the ad implies that the former Democratic National Committee chairman has drawn a red line on accepting the Medicaid expansion that is likely to create a similar showdown in Richmond next year.

But McAuliffe points out that Cuccinelli has made state budget negotiations difficult in the past, using his office last year to stand against transportation compromises and a deal regarding Medicaid reforms that threatened a fragile agreement.

Recent statewide campaigns have tried to turn Washington gridlock and its impact on Virginia — and the commonwealth's 300,000 federal workers — into an issue, often to no avail. Last year, Republican Senate candidate George Allen frequently tied his opponent, Democrat Tim Kaine, to the impending sequestration cuts, but Kaine proved victorious.

If the partial government shutdown is swift, as is often the case, it could end up as just a blip on the radar of a long-winded campaign.

"The voters who turn up to vote in gubernatorial elections understand the difference between what goes on in the federal government and what states can control," said Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "There's some that don't, but they tend not to be voters."

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