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Shutdown Politics Hit Virginia: Youngkin is Concerned, Dems are Pouncing

A government shutdown could upend politics in Virginia like no other state, tearing paychecks away from tens of thousands of voters, potentially tipping the balance of power in Richmond and shaping the governor’s national ambitions.

Both parties are racing to exploit or manage the fallout: Democrats are pumping money into off-year legislative elections, hoping to pin the blame for the shutdown on Republicans, while GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin has privately voiced unease about the potential disruption to at least one member of his state’s congressional delegation.

The Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee recently sent $400,000 to Virginia Democrats “to highlight how extreme Republicans have gotten — including threatening to shut down the government,” spokesperson Abhi Rahman said. “And we’re planning on additional investments in the next few weeks depending on what happens on Sunday.”

Rep. Bob Good (R-Va.), a rural conservative agitating for deep spending cuts, said Youngkin recently reached out and “expressed his concern.” Good said Youngkin was acting “appropriately” when he talked to him and declined to share further details of the conversation.

Youngkin, who is widely seen as a future presidential contender, has so far declined to openly criticize his fellow Republicans for the chaotic clash over government spending. But in the background of his call to Good was an electoral reality that both he and Democrats in the state see similarly: the shutdown is coming at a precarious moment.

The state is weeks away from holding legislative elections that will shape the remainder of Youngkin’s tenure and perhaps his future in national politics. And an expected shutdown this weekend could imperil the paychecks of the more than 140,000 Virginians who work for the federal government.

Both sides are looking for any edge in a very close battle for control of the state legislature — all 140 legislative seats are on the ballot in November — and see a prolonged shutdown as potentially hurting Republicans. The shutdown won’t immediately displace issues like abortion from the top of Democrats’ messaging priorities, but shutdown attacks will ramp up if the stalemate drags out.

Virginia Republicans hope an extended closure doesn’t come to pass at all. If it does, their goal is to minimize the damage — and try to shift voters’ focus instead to their work in Richmond.

“Because races are so tight in Virginia, it could have an impact that will move votes, but there is a counter-message,” said a GOP operative working on the legislative races, granted anonymity to speak candidly. Republicans in the state, this person said, will point to successes in Richmond to distinguish themselves from the dysfunction in Washington.

Both sides know they’ll need to tread carefully. Republicans and Democrats stressed that they didn’t want a shutdown to happen, and operatives from both parties believe that unless the shutdown is prolonged, it won’t become a top issue in the final sprint in Virginia. But with a shutdown rapidly approaching — and early voting already underway — Republicans and Democrats in Virginia believe it could still weigh on close battleground races.

“There’s concern, but we don’t have any control over it,” said Ron Wright, the co-founder of the Suburban Virginia Republican Coalition. “It’s almost a wait and see and see how it impacts. There’s, again, nothing we can do about it.”

Government shutdowns have played prominently in past Virginia elections.

Most notably, in 2013 a two-week shutdown at the start of October preceded a razor-close gubernatorial contest between Democrat Terry McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli. An exasperated Bob McDonnell, the Republican governor at the time, blasted Washington — and, notably, House Republicans — on the eve of the shutdown.

“If the past is prologue, it will hurt Republicans,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), recalling the 2013 gubernatorial race. “We have close control of the Senate and the Republicans, of course, control the House. So any marginal dynamic like this could tip an election in any given seat.”

While McDonnell did not mention the race to succeed him, the shutdown was seen as one factor that helped McAuliffe edge out Cucinelli.

If the government does shut down this weekend, the electoral ramifications could be even more direct. Unlike in 2013, Virginia now has robust early voting laws. Early voting began last Friday — meaning that unlike a decade ago, voters are already at the polls.

Besides California and the District itself, Virginia has the most civilian federal employees in any state, plus a very large military community and private sector jobs that rely on the federal employees spending money.

And Virginia Democrats want to make sure Republicans wear the shutdown. In an interview, state party chair Susan Swecker stressed that she hoped that a government shutdown could be avoided, saying it could have devastating effects for the Virginia economy. But, she added, it was clear who would be responsible for it.

“There was a deal done with the Biden administration and congressional Democrats on this,” she said. “And Kevin McCarthy and his merry band of MAGA extremists — including Bob Good here in Virginia — is saying, ‘Just let it shut down.’”

Good, a Freedom Caucus member who represents the fewest civilian federal employees in the Virginia congressional delegation, has been part of the group of House Republicans agitating for spending cuts in return for not shutting down the government.

When asked about his conversation with Good, Macaulay Porter, a spokesperson for Youngkin’s official office, said in an email that “the governor has regular conversations with members of the Virginia delegation and has a positive working relationship with them so that they can work together on behalf of all Virginians.”

Youngkin, for his part, has not lit into his party in Washington like McDonnell did a decade ago. During a Fox Business appearance earlier this month, he tried to lay the blame at President Joe Biden’s feet. And on the trail last week, he urged patience, saying the state was “in good shape” but acknowledging that people were anxious.

Other Republicans in Washington — especially Virginians — are mindful of how their intra-party squabbling could hurt legislative candidates.

When asked whether the shutdown would hurt Virginia Republicans, battleground first-term Rep. Jen Kiggans (R-Va.) — herself a former state legislator who has vocally opposed a shutdown and warned of the ramifications for her military-heavy district — said “I think Virginians are watching.”

“We have a small majority, so we’re demonstrating what Republican leadership looks like, we’re leading by example,” she added. “That impacts all of our state elections. They need us to lead well.”