Both parties aim to score political points from the shutdown

Chris Moody
Federal workers demonstrate for an end to the U.S. government shutdown on the west front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington
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Mason Palmer (R), 10 months old, has his picture taken by his father in front of federal workers demonstrating for an end to the U.S. government shutdown on the west front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, October 13, 2013. Senate Majority Harry Reid said Sunday that he was engaged in negotiations with Republican Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and was "confident" they could resolve the fiscal crisis confronting Washington. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS EMPLOYMENT CIVIL UNREST)

Republicans and Democrats are using the ongoing battle over the government shutdown and the debt ceiling to bludgeon vulnerable candidates with paid-messaging campaigns, efforts that offer a glimpse into their political playbooks before the midterm elections next year.

The attack campaigns, which have come in the form of online ads and robocalls in battleground states, also shine a light on how political gamesmanship can drive policy decisions in Washington.

For example, since the government shut down Oct. 1, House Republicans have held a series of votes to fund a handful of popular government programs with full knowledge that Democrats would reject them. While refusing to hold a vote on a “clean” funding bill to reopen the entire government, Republicans have voted to fund programs such as the National Park System and National Institutes of Health. Many House Democrats crossed party lines to vote for them, but the Democrat-led Senate has rejected the piecemeal approach.

It was a legislative strategy made perfect for a sound-bite world. By passing those minifunding bills, Republicans went on to accuse Democrats of voting to close national treasures like the Grand Canyon and opposing government funding for medical research and U.S. military veterans.

The Republican National Committee has launched a series of robocalls against red state Democratic lawmakers facing re-election in 2014. The calls, which went to constituents of Florida Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, and Sens. Mark Begich of Alaska, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Kay Hagan of North Carolina, emphasized the delayed benefits of U.S. military veterans under the government shutdown and accused Democrats of “playing politics by cutting off our veterans and their benefits.”

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC), the top party group responsible for electing Republicans to the Senate, is also considering ways to use the shutdown battle against potentially vulnerable Democrats, all of whom voted against delaying the federal health care law as part of a House package to fund the government.

“They're in a Catch-22. Vulnerable Democrats like Mary Landrieu, Mark Pryor and Kay Hagan are terrified of losing their liberal base, but their campaigns bleed independent voters each second that they embrace Obamacare and refuse to negotiate and compromise,” NRSC spokesperson Brad Dayspring told Yahoo News. “They're tying themselves to an anchor.”

While Republicans are focusing pressure on 2014 House and Senate candidates, the Democratic National Committee is sponsoring an offensive that aggressively goes after GOP congressional leaders and possible presidential candidates.

Democrats last week launched a three-wave strike, with paid online ads against Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, and Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida, Rand Paul of Kentucky and Ted Cruz of Texas. (Rubio, Paul and Cruz aren’t up for re-election in 2014, but all have shown some interest in seeking the party nomination for the White House in 2016.)

The first wave came on Oct. 8, when the DNC sponsored online ads and robocalls that targeted each lawmaker in their home state.

On Oct. 9, they released a series of robocalls against Rubio, Paul and Cruz in Iowa, a strategic move because Iowa traditionally holds the first Republican presidential caucuses.

“Republicans in Congress like Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and Rand Paul shut down the government over a week ago trying to gut Obamacare,” the voice on the DNC-sponsored robocall said. “Because of their shutdown, new USDA farm loans in Iowa have been halted, and Iowa farmers aren’t receiving payments for programs they’re enrolled in.”

Then, on Oct. 10, the DNC rolled out yet another series of Spanish-language calls to Hispanic voters against Cruz and Rubio in Florida, Texas, Nevada and Arizona that accused them of “hurting the Latino community.”

While not surprising, these campaigns shine a light on the parallel messaging battle being waged alongside the squabble on Capitol Hill, and how both parties are working hard to ensure the other team takes the fall for the blame. Depending on what works, expect to hear more of this — a lot more — in 2014 and beyond.