Why this government shutdown doesn't matter in Ky.'s 2014 U.S. Senate race

10/01/2013 12:40 PM

Even with all the noise, the speeches, the statements, and the finger pointing, shutting down the government for days — or even a week or two — will have minimal effects on Kentucky’s 2014 U.S. Senate race, say Kentucky political observers.

While congressionally-manufactured stalemates generate headlines and heartburn out of Washington, they have rarely proven to be major motivators at the ballot box, especially more than a year away from an election.

“Does anyone still remember the sequester?” asked Jim Cauley, a Democratic political consultant from Pikeville native, who ran Gov. Steve Beshear’s campaign in 2007 and Barack Obama’s 2004 U.S. Senate race.

Cauley said this shutdown will be rather insignificant in the larger scope of the 2014 election, even one involving one of the key players — Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.

“Absolutely nothing. I don’t think voters will remember or care,” Cauley said. “My opinion is that after this is all cleared up this is a non-issue in the election.”

The one caveat, Cauley said, would be if the shutdown lasts long enough that everyday citizens feel the effects of a long term shutdown at home.

“If they screw up and it tanks the economy, then there is huge blood on the floor,” Cauley said.

But President Barack Obama and some in Congress warned last year that the sequester cuts, which slashed funding across the board for programs, would have such devastating effects on programs. While it has shaved money to schools for special education and forced layoffs to the FBI, to name a few consequences, the American public has expressed little to no outrage.

That’s not to say that voters agree with a government shutdown. A Quinnipiac poll taken last week shows that 72 percent of American voters oppose the government shutdown to stop Obamacare with just 22 percent in favor.

But GOP political consultant Ted Jackson agreed with Cauley that the shutdown isn’t likely to carry over to voters’ decision in next year’s race.

“All of this is so esoteric to the average voter,” Jackson said. “(Voters) are largely immune to it.”

If anything, Jackson said that U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell likely won’t face any backlash or be lumped in with the negative feelings towards Congress because Kentuckians dislike President Barack Obama nearly as much.

“Kentucky is different because Obama is so unpopular,” Jackson said. “Obamacare is not a popular concept in Kentucky.”

As it happens, one such piece of the Affordable Care Act went online today, although not without its glitches. The Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange that matches up uninsured Kentuckians with insurance began its open enrollment process, although the website was down for part of the day. Carrie Banahan, director of the exchange, told Pure Politics last week that while some Kentuckians might dislike the concept of “Obamacare,” once they hear how it can help them get insurance if they’re not covered, they change their tunes.

With Gov. Steve Beshear out of state for an economic development trip, Lt. Gov. Jerry Abramson set off across the commonwealth on Tuesday declaring the date “significant” for Kentuckians who are now eligible for healthcare.

Abramson first stopped in Louisville Tuesday morning to mark the beginning of open enrollment. When asked by Pure Politics about the shutdown Abramson said that “government is being run by tantrum.”

Politically, Abramson said GOP candidates will face the brunt of voter dismay over the shutdown.

“Incumbents in the Republican Party having difficulty for re-election. And that’s exactly what happened 17-years ago when the last shutdown occurred with Clinton and Newt Gingrich as the speaker,” Abramson said.

Actually, the political outcome in the following election was mixed. In the 1996 elections, House Republicans lost nine seats, but picked up two Senate seats.

McConnell, though, argued in 2011 that the ’95 government shutdown helped then-President Bill Clinton get re-elected.

McConnell alluded to that during an interview two years ago during another period of threatened shutdown. He told conservative radio host Laura Ingraham that Republicans would feel the effects in the 2012 elections if they didn’t vote to raise the debt ceiling at the time. He said Obama would use the same approach that benefited Clinton in 1996.

“He will say Republicans are making the economy worse … It is an argument that he could have a good chance of winning and all of a sudden we have co-ownership of the economy. That is a very bad position going into the election,” McConnell said.

Jim Waters of the free-market think tank Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions said the government shutdown should open a new discussion for Americans. He said a shutdown shows that “bureaucrats and politicians in Washington are not the best to solve Kentucky’s problems.”

As lawmakers bicker over funding the federal government including a provision to fund the Affordable Care Act, Waters said it’s time to return to “competitive federalism” which he says would hand power back to the states rather than the government. He said he would like to see the federal government return decision-making power about spending money on discretionary programs back to the states.

Overall, Waters said the haggling and fighting only makes a difference in elections if “citizens really understand what’s happening.”

And, at least for now, that will manifest itself one voter at a time, such as for those who try to visit national parks — like Jackson, the GOP consultant.

Jackson said he’s had longstanding plans to soon travel to Yellowstone National Park, which is now closed because of the government shutdown.

“We’re disappointed,” said Jackson, who is a McConnell supporter. But it won’t change his vote.


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