Chris Christie and Ken Cuccinelli: A tale of two shutdown reactions

October 1, 2013

The federal government has shut down. And its impact is being felt in the two gubernatorial races of 2013, in which Republican nominees offered contrasting reactions to the news that speak volumes about their strategies.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). (Julio Cortez/Associated Press)
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R). (Julio Cortez/Associated Press)

In New Jersey, Gov. Chris Christie (R) released a new ad in which he declares, "Compromise is not a dirty word." It's not a direct reaction to the federal shutdown, but there is certainly an implicit message: 'Hey New Jersey voters, as you look at how Washington gridlock led to a shutdown, remember that I'm not afraid of bipartisanship and I can get things done.' Christie's office also issued a press release seeking to contrast New Jersey's budget talks with Washington's.

In Virginia, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) released a lengthy statement that laid most of the blame for the shutdown at the feet of Democrats.

“While we’re all frustrated by what’s going on, what has surprised me most of all has been the steadfast refusal on the part of Democrats – led by President Obama and Harry Reid – to even sit at the negotiating table," Cuccinelli said.

Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R). (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R). (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

He then went on to tie Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe to them.

“The bottom line in Virginia's Governor's race is this: if Virginians like what they’re seeing out of Washington right now, they have a candidate in Terry McAuliffe who will replicate that intransigence and failure," he said. "If voters want a governor who will always do what is right for our Commonwealth and fight for them, I respectfully ask for their support."

So, what's going on here?  A couple of things. Christie doesn't have to attack; he's on cruise control in New Jersey, where polls show he is up big on Democrat Barbara Buono. He's also running in a very Democratic state in which any talk of reaching across the aisle is a political plus.

Cuccinelli, meanwhile, trails McAuliffe, recent polls show. And a large part of his strategy has been to try to tie McAuliffe to national Democratic interests and figures, which is consistent with the statement he issued on the shutdown. (McAuliffe is trying to do the same thing to Cuccinelli. He issued a statement about the shutdown trying to tie him to national Republicans.)

It's all a reminder that in the coming days, we are going to see a lot of political rhetoric tossed around about the shutdown across the House, Senate, and gubernatorial landscape. Not every Republican is going to adopt the same posture. Nor is every Democrat. What the candidates and the campaigns say will offer hints about where they think their path to victory lies.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.
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Sean Sullivan | October 1, 2013