COLORADO SPRINGS, COLO. - Democrats insist they are winning the debate over the partial federal shutdown, but the real winners may be candidates challenging House and Senate incumbents in 2014.
In Colorado, Republican state Rep. Amy Stephens launched her bid Saturday for her party’s Senate nomination by taking aim at Democratic Sen. Mark Udall for his role in the shutdown, describing it as “despicable” and “wrong.”
“This shutdown is being led by a president who’s been unwilling to negotiate,” said Ms. Stephens in a speech to supporters at the Classical Academy in Colorado Springs. “Including Mark Udall with the Senate Democrats, they’ve resisted seeking a bipartisan answer for the good of our nation.
“And why? Well, because according to the president, they think they’re winning politically,” Ms. Stephens said. “No one is winning politically. No one, folks.”
No one may be winning yet, but so far the shutdown issue is providing ample fodder for candidates who don’t hold federal office running against candidates who do.
A record 74 percent of registered voters surveyed said they would like to see most members of Congress defeated, according to a Pew Research Poll released Tuesday.
The Washington stalemate prompted Omaha City Councilman Pete Festersen, a Democrat, to reverse his earlier decision and enter the race Monday against Rep. Lee Terry, Nebraska Republican. The move came after Mr. Terry initially insisted he would keep his paycheck during the standoff, then apologized for his remarks.
“Like most people, my frustration has grown by the day over the last month, with the government shutdown and the brinkmanship on the debt ceiling,” Mr. Festersen told the Omaha World-Herald. “Change is needed. And I felt it was my responsibility to be that change.”
His message is similar to that of Alaska Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell, who says the shutdown debate shows that “we need change in Washington.” Mr. Treadwell, who is seeking the Republican Senate nomination, faults Democratic Sen. Mark Begich for siding with Senate Democrats in refusing to compromise on funding the Affordable Care Act.
“We need to get rid of the senators that voted for Obamacare in the first place,” Mr. Treadwell said in a Facebook post. “In Alaska, that means making Mark Begich a one-term senator.”
In Kentucky, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat seeking the Senate nomination, has dubbed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell “Senator Gridlock,” releasing a YouTube video Thursday showing local television footage of Kentucky residents affected by the shutdown.
“As Senator Gridlock plays petty political games, the people of Kentucky continue to suffer,” said Mrs. Grimes in a Facebook statement. “Mitch McConnell has clearly chosen self-preservation over the well-being of the commonwealth.”
Rep. Ron Barber, Arizona Democrat, has become a case study on the perils surrounding the shutdown issue. He voted in favor of the Republican-backed bill to delay the Affordable Care Act for a year, thus incurring the wrath of state Democrats.
That didn’t win him any points from his leading Republican opponent, retired Air Force Col. Martha McSally, who is pounding Congress for what she describes as the “dysfunction” and calling for new leadership.
“Politically, it’s a trap for Barber, an incumbent Democrat in a very competitive district,” wrote Arizona Daily Star columnist Tim Stellar on Oct. 2. “Democrats are hammering him for voting with Republicans, and Republicans can hammer him for being part of D.C. dysfunction.”
In North Carolina, Democrats backing Sen. Kay R. Hagan have attempted to turn the issue on its head by shifting blame for the shutdown to her would-be Republican opponents.
“Thom Tillis, Mark Harris, Greg Brannon and Heather Grant should immediately bring an end to their partisan political ultimatums and do the right thing for North Carolina by ending the Republican shutdown,” said Justin Barasky, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, in an Oct. 2 statement.
Mr. Barasky didn’t explain how any of the four Republicans would end the shutdown, given that none of them currently serves in the House or Senate.
Incumbents who attempt to hold campaign events during the shutdown also can expect an earful from the opposition, as Sen. Al Franken, Minnesota Democrat, learned before his Oct. 4 fundraising bash with singer Paul Simon.
“How out of touch is Al Franken? After Congress fails to do its job and the government shuts down, the first thing Franken does is throw a big fundraiser. He truly is the ‘Boy in the Bubble,’” Republican businessman Mike McFadden, who is seeking the GOP nod, said in a statement.
“Holding a fundraiser with yet another famous celebrity may help Al Franken’s campaign,” added Mr. McFadden, “but it isn’t going to end the shutdown.”