Terry McAuliffe’s plan was to visit a technology company and tout a package of revisions to Virginia’s ethics laws.
But by the time he showed up at MicroTech’s Vienna headquarters Tuesday morning, the federal government had been shuttered for 10 hours, and the chief executive of the Fairfax County company was lamenting how it was already crippling his business. Much of his workforce had been idled, he said, and his government projects had ground to a halt.
So instead of talking ethics changes, McAuliffe (D) made the event all about the shutdown, accusing his opponent in the governor’s race, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R), of being in league with tea-party-backed conservatives on Capitol Hill.
Later in the day, Cuccinelli fired back, calling McAuliffe a symbol of Washington intransigence while emphasizing — on the same day insurance exchanges came online — his own longtime opposition to President Obama’s health-care overhaul.
And for a day at least, the most-watched campaign of the year intersected with the federal shutdown, crowding out other topics of debate in the heated contest between McAuliffe and Cuccinelli.
McAuliffe was joined at MicroTech by state Sen. Ralph S. Northam (Norfolk), the pick for lieutenant governor, and state Sen. Mark R. Herring (Loudoun), the candidate for attorney general.
Tony Jimenez, MicroTech’s president and chief executive, said that so much of his company’s work had slowed because of the shutdown that the majority of his employees were taking time off. They’re still being paid — for now.
“We’re operating at about 10 percent today,” Jimenez said. “We’ve received more than a dozen stop-work [orders] from the federal government. . . . I have a little bit of a contingency plan, but I can’t go on forever. Twenty-one days, like what happened 17 years ago, would cripple us. It would absolutely cripple us. And much longer than that could put us out of business.”
McAuliffe quickly pinned the blame for MicroTech’s plight on his opponent. “I think it’s so sad what we just heard here with Tony,” he said. “There are thousands of Virginians today, unfortunately there’s a lot of collateral damage because of the tea party’s ideological war.”
Cuccinelli, McAuliffe said, “needs to tell his allies in Congress to stop it.” At a debate last month in McLean, Cuccinelli appeared to say that Republicans in Congress should relent on their demands. “Well, 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,” he said.
But since then, he has stressed the notion that the fault lies primarily with Obama and congressional Democrats because they refuse to make any concessions on the health law.
“You can’t have that conversation if one side won’t even sit down at the table, and that’s what they’re doing right now. . . . ” Cuccinelli said on Post TV’s “In Play” program Tuesday. “If I’m the governor, I’ll never close the door on talking to Democrats. It will never happen in my administration.”
Cuccinelli and his fellow Republicans have sought to turn the shutdown issue around on McAuliffe, noting that the Democrat has said multiple times that as governor he would not sign a Virginia budget that did not include money to expand Medicaid. That, Republicans say, is a threat. McAuliffe denied Tuesday that he had ever drawn such a bright line.
“We’ll never shut the government down,” McAuliffe said. “I’ve never said we’d shut the government down. This is about working together. We will get the Medicaid expansion in Virginia. I’m going to work in a bipartisan way to do it.”
Democrats have badgered Cuccinelli over the shutdown by linking him to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a chief architect of the GOP’s current strategy who is scheduled to appear at the Family Foundation’s dinner Saturday night in Richmond. Cuccinelli will also be there.
Cuccinelli’s campaign declined to denounce Cruz but also sought to clarify Saturday’s dinner.
“It’s not a campaign event,” Richard T. Cullen, a spokesman for the campaign, said. “We work with Ted Cruz. We work with a lot of conservatives who are coming to the state and campaigning for Ken.”
With insurance exchanges having gone live Tuesday, Cuccinelli’s campaign also sought to remind voters of McAuliffe’s support for the health law and his previous backing of legislation that would have gone further toward universal care.
“McAuliffe is doing everything he possibly can to change the conversation from the fact that he supports this law that’s going online today,” Cullen said. “He supported the public option. He didn’t think Obamacare went far enough.”