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Republicans, Democrats use government shutdown as weapon in races

If operatives on both sides get their way, the government shutdown that has sharply divided Washington will soon expand its reach to places like Ventura and Palm Springs and the San Joaquin Valley.

With prodigious doses of trash talk, both parties’ congressional committees have predictably been working the conflict for political advantage.

The National Republican Congressional Committee has barely taken a breath between gibes at rookie Congresswoman Julia Brownley, who defeated Republican Tony Strickland in November for a Ventura-area seat.

FULL COVERAGE: The U.S. government shutdown

A sample of their emails from the last several days:

“Brownley votes against funding for cancer patients”

“Brownley votes against funding for women and children living in poverty.”

“Brownley would rather pay federal workers than fund cancer screenings.”

“Brownley votes against food safety funding”

“Brownley votes against funding for Head Start programs.”

And, lastly, “What is Julia Brownley afraid of?” (Perhaps  death by email.)

The votes referred to nearly unanimous Democratic efforts to block Republicans from trying to pass piecemeal budget measures for popular beneficiaries (like women and children in poverty, cancer patients and Head Start kids). Not incidentally, Republicans have argued for cuts in some of the same programs in past budget fights.

Democrats, who have remained unified in their all-or-nothing budget strategy, didn’t spare Strickland, the former state senator who is seeking a rematch against Brownley.

“One week in and not one word from Tony Strickland about the shutdown,” blared one missive.

“Republicans in Congress have pushed the shutdown into a second week, and Tony Strickland still won’t tell Californians whether he would join in the efforts to recklessly keep this crisis going,” said the email from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

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Whether the 26th district is even competitive is open to question. Brownley won by 6 points in November and the district leans Democratic even in a non-presidential year.

Criticisms are also flying in more competitive seats.

Operatives from both parties  expected — even before the shutdown scrambled things — to see tight contests in three California seats held by first-term Democrats whose campaigns were boosted by Obama’s presence on the ballot. They are Ami Bera of Elk Grove, Raul Ruiz of Palm Desert and Scott Peters of San Diego.

Republican-held seats that are expected to be contested include ones held by first-term Rep. David Valadao of the San Joaquin Valley and Gary Miller of Rancho Cucamonga.

Some of those seats, and similar ones nationally, could flip, but at this point veteran political watchers doubt Republicans will lose control of the House, despite the fevered predictions of some.

“A Democratic takeover would require a huge wave running against the party not in the White House, something that hasn't happened since Franklin Roosevelt's first few years in office,” Charlie Cook of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report wrote in National Journal. 

Stu Rothenberg, another independent campaign analyst, agreed.

“At this point in the cycle, there is no compelling evidence that a Democratic wave is developing, which is what the party would need to net the necessary 17 House seats to win the majority,” he said in a column in Roll Call. “That’s not to say it can’t happen, of course. If the shutdown (and, possibly, inaction on raising the debt ceiling) creates a severe economic downturn for which Republicans get most of the blame, anything could happen. But there are a lot of assumptions in that scenario.” 

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cathleen.decker@latimes.com

Twitter: @cathleendecker

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