Shutdown strikes an already heated Virginia gubernatorial contest

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October 7, 2013


By Maresa Strano

RICHMOND, Virginia: The high profile federal government shutdown has coincided with the home stretch of this year's increasingly expensive and high-profile Virginia governor race, creating a fresh backdrop for the battle between major party nominees Terry McAuliffe (D) and Ken Cuccinelli (R), and providing a brand new context in which to undermine each other's character and leadership potential.[1] Each campaign released an ad in the aftermath of the shutdown, which arrived on the heels of the candidates' second debate.[2]

With the nation paying close attention to its government in light of the perceived failure of Congress to work together in the best interests of their constituents, McAuliffe and Cuccinelli's ads each highlight features of his opponent which most closely mirror the type of stubbornness displayed by the House and Senate leading up to the shutdown, and to which the general public is, at the moment, so sensitively attuned. That moment, to be more specific, is one month before the general election. As the competition stands, McAuliffe has an overall average lead in the polls of 5.3 points over his Republican foe.[3]

Hoping to use the shutdown to further advance his edge by painting Cuccinelli in with the GOP ideologues in Congress, McAuliffe's ad emphasizes Cuccinelli's strong ties to tea party leader U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), since Cruz is an outspoken supporter both of Cuccinelli and the far-right congressional insurgency which, in seeking to defund Obamacare, is regarded as causing the shutdown. The ad cites Cuccinelli's past effort to defund planned parenthood, apparently bringing the Virginia legislature "to a standstill," as well as claims Cuccinelli was sufficiently opposed to Mark Warner's 2004 budget to call for a shutdown of the state government.[4] In response to the former criticism, Cuccinelli has pushed to obtain back pay for furloughed federal employees during the shutdown, and encouraged members of Congress not to accept their paychecks in the meantime.[1]

Cuccinelli's ad aims to discredit McAuliffe by referencing articles from The Washington Post and the Richmond-Times Dispatch criticizing McAuliffe's prospective budget plan that he has allegedly threatened to shutdown the government to get passed. The radio spot also accuses him of being "against compromise, against working together to find solutions,” and notes how the Democrat sided with his fellow party members in Congress who had vocally dismissed opportunities to collaborate with Republican colleagues to avert shutdown.[5][6]

The solo third party candidate in the race, Libertarian Robert Sarvis, may find a unique opportunity in this shutdown atmosphere, where disillusionment with the current standard of government operation runs rampant. If Sarvis is permitted to participate in the third debate with McAuliffe and Cuccinelli, he could potentially attract a substantial number of voters who, already frustrated under Congress' showcase of two-party gridlock, could find themselves more sympathetic than usual to an as-yet untainted non-major party nominee.

"People are looking for other options they don't like what they have to see from those two parties and we're trying to fill that void with principled advocacy for more freedom in our economic sphere and personal lives," stated Sarvis. His passive warning about "obvious dysfunction of our [federal] government" also existing on the state and local level could have an especially profound impact on swing voters and the average 10% of voters polling as undecided.[7][8]

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