Candidates run from government shutdown, play congeniality card

This year’s crop of state political candidates has learned something from the federal government shutdown: The ability to sing "Kumbaya," or at least know the lyrics.

High-profile races from Virginia to New Jersey are awash in testimonials to candidates’ ability to work with all sides and, voters are told, get things done.

In Virginia, where Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli have been battering each other for months in the race for governor, a new McAuliffe ad features a Republican mayor touting his support.

“We’re Democrats and Republicans and we know that Terry will get the job done for Hampton Roads,” Virginia Beach Mayor Will Sessoms says after similar praise from two Democratic city leaders. 

FULL COVERAGE: The U.S. government shutdown

Cuccinelli, who has trailed in recent polls and spent much of his time outspent and on the defensive, has presented a black Democratic school board member from Richmond as an exemplar of his bipartisan bona fides.

“That Ken has some agenda against women? Ridiculous!” says Tichi Pinkney Eppes. “I support Ken Cuccinelli because he’s fighting for a better Virginia for all of us.”

Even the nasty negative ads have played off the government shutdown. McAuliffe was airing video noting Cuccinelli’s past support for shutting down the Virginia government in pursuit of his partisan goals. “I would have gone right over the brink,” the Republican is seen saying in file video.

In a radio ad that noted Cuccinelli’s support from Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, one of the key GOP leaders behind the shutdown, McAuliffe was said to be the one “who’s joining common-sense Americans and asking that we open the government and stop the political games that are hurting Virginia families. VA families. Let’s reject Cruz and Cuccinelli’s extreme approach.” 

The shutdown is no small issue in Virginia, where people in swaths of the state work in government jobs or for companies that depend on federal contracts.

In New Jersey, which will see separate elections for U.S. Senate and for governor over the next month, the Republican governor and the Democratic mayor who wants to be a senator were both vying for the Mr. Congeniality title.

An ad by Senate candidate and Newark Mayor Cory Booker starts off slamming Republican Steve Lonegan — “Yeah, I’m a right-wing radical,” Lonegan is seen saying — but ends with Booker asserting, “We’re better than that.”

“Let’s come together and get things done,” Booker says. 

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An ad being aired on Booker’s behalf by the Independence USA PAC, an electoral effort by New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, was more blunt in its references to the federal government standoff.

“In a divided Washington, a senator to get things done: Cory Booker. As mayor he brought together Republicans, the private sector and community leaders to reform Newark public schools; worked with the business community to bring over $1 billion in new investments and jobs.”

“A leader to put progress ahead of partisanship,” the ad ends.

Lonegan, for his part, has given no quarter to Booker, or any nods to bipartisanship. A blistering summer radio ad concluded with the line, “I approve this message because New Jerseyans are fed up with Barack Obama and Cory Booker and their radical left-wing agenda.”

The biggest display of bipartisanship comes from New Jersey’s Republican governor, Chris Christie, no doubt reflecting his desire to surmount the usual Democratic leanings of his state.

“They said it couldn’t be done; New Jersey was too broken, too partisan, but they never met Chris Christie. Working with both parties, he made tough decisions,” one Christie ad says.

Christie confronts the issue in his own words in another ad:

“I say what I believe but I also know that my job is to get things done for the people of the state,” Christie says. “Everything we’ve done has been a bipartisan accomplishment. See, I think as long as you stick to your principles, compromise isn’t a dirty word.”

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His opponent, Barbara Buono, a Democrat who trails far behind the popular governor, countered with a video suggesting that Christie’s detailed assertions of his accomplishments were false. “ Christie may think we’ll take his word for it,” the video says, “but, governor, we see the truth."

The effort to reflect a bipartisan, can-do spirit is intensifying as polls show increasing disgust with those involved in the extended Beltway spat, and particularly with House Republicans. Two surveys out Monday showed them falling to near record lows in favorability.

But while statewide candidates, with their bigger and less homogenous voter pools, have to take care to plot a more moderate course, there was little incentive for members of Congress to pull back. A new Pew Research Center survey showed about three-quarters of Democrats and Republicans each thought it was the other side’s responsibility to give in.

Twitter: @cathleendecker

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