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First Thoughts: Measuring the shutdown's impact in Virginia

Shutdown’s impact in Virginia: McAuliffe’s lead over Cuccinelli has grown… New NBC4/NBC News/Marist poll has McAuliffe up, 46%-38%, in advance of Hillary Clinton stumping for McAuliffe on Saturday... Virginia has become a microcosm of the GOP’s woes… Hatch and McCain vs. Heritage… Budget talks have lowered sights… More Obamacare website woes… McConnell focuses on Grimes, not Bevin�

Shutdown’s impact in Virginia: McAuliffe’s lead over Cuccinelli has grown… New NBC4/NBC News/Marist poll has McAuliffe up, 46%-38%, in advance of Hillary Clinton stumping for McAuliffe on Saturday... Virginia has become a microcosm of the GOP’s woes… Hatch and McCain vs. Heritage… Budget talks have lowered sights… More Obamacare website woes… McConnell focuses on Grimes, not Bevin… Cook Political Report expands the House playing field… And “Meet the Press” has Schumer and Coburn.

*** Measuring the shutdown’s impact in Virginia: By now, you know that the 16-day government shutdown took a toll on the Republican Party -- in the polls and with a now-expanded 2014 House map (see below). But here’s one more negative result the shutdown has had on the GOP: It has hurt Republican Ken Cuccinelli’s chances of winning next month’s gubernatorial contest in Virginia. According to a new NBC4/NBC News/Marist poll, Democrat Terry McAuliffe holds an eight-point lead over Cuccinelli among likely voters, 46%-38%, up from McAuliffe’s five-point edge (43%-38%) last month before the shutdown. Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis gets 9%. And when the race is reduced to just two candidates, McAuliffe’s lead jumps to nine points, 52%-43%. But here’s the role the shutdown has played in government-worker-heavy Virginia: 39% of residents say they or a family member were impacted by the shutdown. And by a 54%-29% margin, voters blamed the shutdown on congressional Republicans instead of President Obama. What’s more, the GOP’s fav/unfav in the state is dismal 32%-62% among voters (and 23%-71% among independents), versus the Dem Party’s 45%-50% (and 39%-56% among indies). “Just when Cuccinelli needed to start closing the gap against McAuliffe, the government shutdown became a huge roadblock,” says Marist’s Lee Miringoff.

*** Virginia has become a microcosm of the GOP’s woes: Of course, Cuccinelli came into this contest with his own issues (example: he trails McAuliffe by 20 points among female voters). Bob McDonnell’s (R) ethics woes didn’t help the party over the summer (though McDonnell’s approval rating among voters is a very healthy 55%). And Cuccinelli and the GOP are being outspent in the race by a 2-to-1 margin. But if Cuccinelli ends up losing the Nov. 5 gubernatorial race, many will point to the shutdown being the final nail in his coffin. Yet there’s a larger political point to make about Virginia: It has become a microcosm of the GOP’s woes. The party nominated the more conservative candidate over potentially a moderate one (due to the state’s nominating convention instead of a primary). And it has a damaged brand in this key swing state (let us repeat, the GOP’s fav/unfav is 32%-62%). If the party can’t win this state in 2016, it is VERY difficult to get to 270 electoral votes.Oh, and guess who is campaigning for McAuliffe tomorrow in Virginia -- Hillary Clinton.

*** Hatch, McCain vs. Heritage:Next door to Virginia, in the nation’s capital, the shutdown has had another result: It has brought the GOP to the brink of an ideological civil war. Yesterday on MSNBC’s “Daily Rundown,” Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) took a shoot at Heritage Action, which helped lead the defund-Obamacare effort. "Heritage used to be the conservative organization helping Republicans,” he said. "There’s a real question in the minds of many Republicans right now, and I’m not just speaking for myself: Is Heritage going to go so political that it really doesn’t amount to anything anymore?" In addition, Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) fired off this tweet yesterday: “Must-read for Robert Robb, #Arizona’s preeminent conservative commentator: ‘Sad Demise of the Heritage Foundation.’” In what appears to be a response to his critics, Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint (a former colleague of Hatch’s and McCain’s) pens this Wall Street Journal op-ed: “[I]t's worth explaining why my organization, the Heritage Foundation, and other conservatives chose this moment to fight—and why we will continue to fight. The reason is simple: to protect the American people from the harmful effects of this law.” It’s a fascinating battle to watch: These longtime GOP senators vs. three of the most powerful conservative groups: Heritage Action, Senate Conservatives Fund, and Club for Growth.

*** Lowered sights: Also in Washington yesterday, the budget talks between Republicans (led by House Budget Committee Chair Paul Ryan) and Democrats (headed by Sen. Patty Murray) got underway. And as the New York Times notes, the headline is that everyone seems to be lowering their sights to getting a small deal. “With the scope of the talks narrowed for now, on the table are ideas left over from past, failed bargaining: possible reductions in other programs — like farm subsidies, federal pensions, the Postal Service and unemployment insurance — and relatively minimal tax loophole closings, possibly as little as $55 billion.” Do pay attention to Murray’s comment yesterday that “We believe there is common ground.” That’s a clear sign these talks aren’t about a “grand bargain”; rather, they’re about getting the bare minimum, it appears.

*** Obamacare website woes: As we said yesterday, the end of the government shutdown is bringing more attention and scrutiny to the Obamacare websites. And here’s USA Today: “The federal health care exchange was built using 10-year-old technology that may require constant fixes and updates for the next six months and the eventual overhaul of the entire system... Recent changes have made the exchanges easier to use, but they still require clearing the computer's cache several times, stopping a pop-up blocker, talking to people via Web chat who suggest waiting until the server is not busy, opening links in new windows and clicking on every available possibility on a page in the hopes of not receiving an error message.” And here’s NBC’s Tom Costello on the company behind the problematic rollout. Of course, one of the stories here is that the websites for the state exchanges are working MUCH better than the federal website.

*** McConnell focuses on Grimes, not Bevin: In 2014 news, Mitch McConnell seems to have picked which contest he’s more concerned about -- between his primary challenge from Matt Bevin and his general-election challenge against Alison Grimes. The answer: the general election. “Asked if the deal would hurt his chances in a primary against conservative businessman Matt Bevin, McConnell declined to comment on his primary. But he offered up a stinging analysis of his Democratic opponent, Grimes,” Politico writes. “‘What happened yesterday completely steps on the whole rationale for her candidacy, which is that somehow I’m part of what she calls the dysfunction in Washington,” McConnell said. ‘Look, I demonstrated on four occasions — including yesterday the most recent occasion, yesterday — that when the country is in crisis and something needs to be done on a bipartisan basis, I can step forward and get an agreement.’ Grimes, McConnell said, has had a ‘pretty bad 24 hours.’”

*** Cook Report expands the House playing field: Also in 2014 news, the Cook Political Report moved additional House seats into its competitive column. “In the interim, we are shifting our House Topline from a Republican gain of two to seven seats to a minimal net change of up to five seats in either party's direction, with larger Democratic gains possible if Republicans continue to pursue unpopular and self-destructive strategies,” the Cook Political Report’s David Wasserman writes.

*** On “Meet” this Sunday: Finally, “Meet the Press” this Sunday will have Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Tom Coburn (R-OK).

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