The government shutdown could cost Republicans big in Virginia

Tea Party congressmen may be insulated from public backlash, but their state level colleagues most certainly are not

Terry McAuliff (left) and Ken Cuccinelli
(Image credit: (Linda Davidson-Pool/Getty Images))

House Republicans' refusal to pass a clean bill to fund the government could cost them congressional seats in future elections. Already, though, that intransigence may be blowing the party's chances of holding onto a governor's mansion just down the road from Washington, in Virginia, where a once-close election is turning into a potential rout.

Nearly half of Virginia voters have an unfavorable opinion of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe, according to a new Politico poll, conducted by Public Policy Polling. Yet the former Democratic Party chairman is still running away with the race, leading his Republican challenger, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, by a nine-point margin, 44-35 percent, in a three-way contest.

Further, 62 percent of Virginia voters oppose the shutdown, according to the poll. Of those voters, almost two-thirds back McAuliffe; only 16 percent support Cuccinelli.

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McAuliffe held slim leads in most earlier surveys, so the latest results show him opening up some distance one month out from election day. And while Cuccinelli's fortunes are not tied solely to the shutdown in D.C., the bellicosity of his fellow Republicans is anchoring the party brand and casting a negative light on his campaign, too.

Public opinion has calcified against House Republicans as they've stumbled aimlessly from one failed negotiating tactic to the next. Americans overwhelmingly oppose the shutdown and are more likely to blame it on the GOP than on Democrats or President Obama. A recent survey found that the fallout had even given Democrats a chance of flipping the House in 2014.

The shutdown's effects are being felt particularly hard in Virginia, home to a high percentage of the 800,000 federal employees furloughed by the shutdown.

Virginia's nearly 145,000 federal workers are the second-most in any state in the nation, according to the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. The Virginia Employment Commission has already reported an uptick in applications for unemployment benefits, as furloughed workers seek assistance to weather the shutdown. If the shutdown drags on much longer, the trend will only worsen.

Seizing on the politics of the shutdown, McAuliffe is working hard to link his opponent to the tainted national GOP brand. Cuccinelli is a longtime Tea Party favorite — he famously sued the Obama administration over the Affordable Care Act — giving McAuliffe even more ammunition. With shutdown architect Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) set to visit the state, McAuliffe went up with an ad directly tying Cuccinelli to "Ted Cruz's Tea Party shutdown."

Even Cuccinelli, the former anti-ObamaCare crusader, has called on the GOP to give up the fight over the ACA and pass a clean budget bill. And he candidly admitted to CNN what McAuliffe, too, had figured out: The shutdown was negatively impacting his campaign.

Cuccinelli is far from a perfect candidate. He's quixotically defended Virginia's old anti-sodomy law, and has been tied to the scandal-plagued outgoing governor, Bob McDonnell. Also pulling him down is the GOP's nominee for lieutenant governor, E.W. Jackson, who has likened yoga to Satanism and accused Planned Parenthood of being "more lethal to black lives than the KKK ever was."

Still, House Republicans have done Cuccinelli no favors by throwing more ballast on his already-struggling campaign. If McAuliffe hangs on to win, national Republicans may need to finally reconsider whether their firm stance against funding the government without concessions is doing the party more harm than good.

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