By Kenric Ward | Watchdog.org Virginia Bureau
RICHMOND – Hours before the federal government shut down, Terry McAuliffe’s campaign aired a TV ad that declared “Extreme Tea Party Republicans in Washington are playing games with Virginia’s economy.”
The not-so-subtle dig at GOP rival Ken Cuccinelli reminded Virginia voters — in case anyone had forgotten — that the conservative attorney general has been a longtime tea party favorite.
McAuliffe, meanwhile, was in New York on Monday night, collecting $25,000 checks from couples at a second fundraiser hosted by Hillary Clinton. Bill Clinton had already given $100,000 to his former Democratic National Committee chairman.
The day-old government shutdown, and the smoldering debate over Obamacare, have both gubernatorial candidates jousting for political advantage barely four weeks before Election Day.
Two Virginia political scientists say the edge goes to McAuliffe, at least for now.
“Approximately half of the families in Northern Virginia have at least one person who works for the federal government – so it’s tangible,” Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia, told U.S News. “If you’ve got someone in your family whose job depends upon the federal government to stay open, it’s going to matter to you.”
Steve Farnsworth, a political scientist at the University of Mary Washington, said “moderate voters are really offended by government misconduct” in the shutdown.
“Polls show the Republicans are more likely to be blamed than the Democrats on this and this will not help the Cuccinelli campaign,” he told the Daily Press of Newport News.
Still, McAuliffe has big budget vulnerabilities. And some of his baggage comes from the White House’s health-care agenda.
Watchdog.org reported last month that McAuliffe’s 10-point spending plan has no price tag and no funding behind it.
McAuliffe repeatedly refused to provide details during last week’s gubernatorial debate in Fairfax. He has since said that federal funding for Medicaid expansion – part of the Obamacare package – could be used to finance additional programs.
In a skeptical editorial, the liberal Washington Post stated, “Counting on this program as a revenue source to fund a broad economic agenda poses several problems.”
McAuliffe says he would veto any state budget bill that did not contain Medicaid expansion. Republicans say such fiscal brinksmanship echoes what’s going on across the Potomac.
“Terry McAuliffe is proposing spending plans that even The Washington Post says are not ‘sustainable or realistic,’” says Cuccinelli spokeswoman Anna Nix.
For his part, Cuccinelli can claim fiscal restraint.
The attorney general’s office has consistently returned money to the general fund each year, despite a decreasing general fund budget.
Still, financial prudence isn’t necessarily being rewarded by the public. In a national Reuters/Ipsos poll released Monday, 25 percent of respondents said Republicans would be blamed for a federal shutdown, 14 percent knocked Obama and 5 percent held the Democrats responsible.
Factoring the shutdown into the gubernatorial race — where McAuliffe holds a narrow lead in the polls — Sabato said, “The effect to me is mainly pro-McAuliffe because he’s looking for motivators to get Democrats out to vote.”
But, he added, “It’s no secret that people are not in love with him.”
Kenric Ward is a national reporter and Virginia Bureau Chief for Watchdog. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (571) 319-9824. @Kenricward
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