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Cuccinelli facing backlash for backing tea party allies in shutdown

10/2/2013, 3:56 p.m.
With 170,000 federal employees in Virginia and 30 percent of the economy of Northern Virginia dependent on government spending, no ...

ALEXANDRIA (NYT) - With 170,000 federal employees in Virginia and 30 percent of the economy of Northern Virginia dependent on government spending, no state has more to lose from a government shutdown than this one.

And the first concrete gauge of the political fallout might play out here, where a governor’s race that had been dominated by the weakness of the two candidates now seems to be focused on the question of which party will take the blame.

With the election just 34 days away, the issue increasingly is raising risks for Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the Republican, who is worriedly trying to keep voters angry at Washington Republicans from taking it out on him.

Mr. Cuccinelli, Virginia’s attorney general, says he does not support a federal shutdown. He has tried to turn the tables on his Democratic opponent, Terry McAuliffe, by arguing that he would bring the same inflexibility to Richmond that produced the breakdown this week in Washington.

But with national polls showing a majority of voters blaming Republicans for government dysfunction, Mr. Cuccinelli has a problem that worsens each day the shutdown continues and brings more economic pain to Virginians, analysts and Republican strategists said.

Presumably mindful of the political reality in their battleground state, two Republican House members from Virginia — Scott Rigell and Frank R. Wolf — broke ranks on Tuesday and called for a vote to finance the government with no policy strings attached, which would end the shutdown.

No one knows how long the shutdown will last and what its political fallout will be. But Virginia has long been looked to as a harbinger, however imperfect, for the coming Congressional midterm elections. It is one of only two states to hold statewide elections a year after a presidential vote. (New Jersey, the other, does not have a close-fought governor’s contest this year.)

“This will clearly knock out the Republicans in Northern Virginia,” said Tom Davis, a former Republican member of the House from the region. “You’ll have a lot of angry voters looking for some way to express discontent. They don’t get a shot at Congress until next year.”

Added John Feehery, a former aide to a previous Republican House speaker, J. Dennis Hastert, “If I were Ken Cuccinelli I’d be calling my friends in the Tea Party and saying knock this off.”

The Cuccinelli campaign’s strategy for avoiding blowback is to distance itself from the work of Congressional Republicans. Danny Diaz, a senior campaign adviser, said voters would be able to make a distinction between Washington lawmakers and the statewide gubernatorial candidates.

“I think these are voters who are going to understand, O.K., this is the federal government, and these are guys running for state office, and I’ve heard from them and I’m going to weigh that,” he said.

Last week, at the first televised debate, Mr. Cuccinelli drew a distinction between himself and Congressional Republicans willing to close down the government if a budget resolution did not gut President Obama’s health care law. “We’ve got to make compromises to get the budget going,” he said.