Cuccinelli became a conservative hero by challenging the health-care law, and he needs those ardent allies to carry him to victory in an uphill, off-year election against Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
“I think Ken Cuccinelli’s fortunes rise and fall on the backbone of House Republicans,” said Ronald Wilcox, an organizer with the Northern Virginia Tea Party.
But the showdown also means that Cuccinelli could alienate more middle-of-the-road voters — the folks who might not like Obamacare but dislike government dysfunction even more. That’s especially true in the Northern Virginia suburbs.
“This is not tea party country, for the most part,” former congressman Tom Davis (R-Va.) said Thursday. “To the extent that the tea party is viewed as part of the problem up here, it’s not going to help the Republican candidate.”
For Cuccinelli, the timing of the showdown is particularly troublesome. McAuliffe already holds a solid lead in several polls, and the slugfest over Obamacare and federal spending started to build right about the time that Cuccinelli had caught one of his first breaks of the race: his endorsement by the Northern Virginia Technology Council’s TechPAC.
He’s also scheduled to host Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) on the campaign trail. Cruz, a ringleader of the showdown, grabbed lots of attention this week after enlisting “Dr. Seuss” in a 21-hour filibuster-like maneuver designed to intensify the battle over Obamacare. But Cruz’s maneuver also exposed the widening split between moderates and conservatives in the GOP and prompted Democrats to demand that Cuccinelli denounce Cruz’s tactics.
“What Ken Cuccinelli needs to do is to use some of the tea party capital that he has accumulated and to tell them what a damaging impact a tea-party-led shutdown of the federal government would have on the Virginia that Ken Cuccinelli says he wants to represent,” Del. Robert H. Brink (D-Arlington) said in a teleconference this week.
Cuccinelli treaded carefully around the issue during the Wednesday night debate with McAuliffe, sponsored by the Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce and NBC4.
“None of us want to see a government shutdown,” Cuccinelli said, adding that as a Northern Virginian, he knows how much the region depends on the U.S. government.
Debate moderator Chuck Todd pressed him: Did he support Cruz or not?
“I said I don’t want the federal government to shut down,” Cuccinelli responded. “I’d like to see Obamacare pulled out of federal law. But, you know, we’ve got to keep moving forward and make compromises to get the budget going.”
Cuccinelli then turned the issue back on McAuliffe’s pledge that he would not sign a budget unless it included expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.“This is a Washington tactic,” Cuccinelli said. “And if you like the way Washington works, you will like a Governor McAuliffe.”