WASHINGTON -- WASHINGTON (AP) — Republicans and Democrats have wasted little time trying to use the first federal government shutdown in a generation for political advantage ahead of next year's midterm elections, seizing on the plight of furloughed workers and shuttered government services to cast blame on each other.
A year out from Election Day and just days into the stoppage, the debate already is playing out in TV and radio ads in key congressional districts, newspaper editorials and fundraising pitches from campaign committees eager to pad their bank accounts early for 2014. And both sides are aggressively testing the political arguments they likely will try to make over the next year.
Republicans are trying to focus the nation's attention on President Barack Obama's health care law, which more Americans dislike than like. Republicans trying to derail or delay the law say it's Democrats who shut down the government by refusing to negotiate over the law.
"Instead of admitting Obamacare was a mistake, Democrats are insisting that Americans be forced into a government-run health care program they don't want," says a national television ad from the Senate Conservatives Fund, a GOP outside group.
Following Obama's lead, Democrats are telling voters that Republicans have been hijacked by extremists and the tea party, and have jeopardized the economy by trying to extract unprecedented demands before re-opening the government. They say if House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, can't control his flock, Republicans can't be allowed to control the House.
"Speaker Boehner doesn't have the guts to put a clean bill on the floor to fund the government," says an ad that a liberal group, MoveOn.org, is airing on cable television. "Why? Because he's afraid of the tea party."
At this point, polls show more Americans blame Republicans for the shutdown than Obama and other Democrats. A CBS News poll conducted after the shutdown began Tuesday shows 44 percent of Americans blame Republicans, compared to 35 percent for Obama and Democrats. Nearly 1 in 5 says both sides share the blame.
Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus brushes off the surveys, saying: "Governing by simply looking at daily tracking polls is probably not the right way to govern."
Some Republicans contend that as the shutdown drags on, the public will turn on Obama for refusing to negotiate on health care.
But Democrats are counting on this shutdown, like two that took place in the 1990s, to inflict damage on the Republican brand. They're hoping that could boost Democrats' prospects for reclaiming the House next year. Democrats need to gain 17 House seats for the majority in 2014, while Senate Republicans need to gain six seats to return to power.
Fueling the optimism: the Democratic National Committee said it raised $850,000 online in the 24 hours before the shutdown started — the party's best fundraising day since the 2012 election ended.
Martha McKenna, a former political director for the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, said all Democrats have to do is point out how average Americans have sacrificed paychecks, childcare and vacations during the shutdown. She argues that message will work in rural, conservative-leaning states.
"People are angry, they are frustrated and they are very well aware of how Republicans have taken this country to the brink," she said.
At the same time they're lobbing criticism at each other, Democrats and Republicans are trying to insulate themselves from attacks.
Republicans have pursued piecemeal legislation to re-open popular parts of government, like national parks and veterans services. They've also seized on Obama's assertion that he won't negotiate as evidence there's nothing more they can do. Obama signed legislation ensuring military members get paid during the shutdown, and his administration made provisions to allow veterans groups into the National World War II Memorial after the GOP used that issue to cudgel Democrats.
Meanwhile, outside groups allied with both parties are weighing in.
The Senate Conservatives Fund began airing national TV and radio ads targeting Democrats and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. That marked a change of course for the outside group, which traditionally has targeted Republicans it deems insufficiently conservative — including Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who critics say has avoided pursuing a deal because he, too, faces a tea party challenge.
In the fight for control of the House, an outside Democratic group launched an ad Friday that shows footage of a baby crying while accusing Boehner of throwing a temper tantrum. House Majority PAC is also airing shutdown-themed ads against nine other Republicans it considers particularly vulnerable.
On the Republican side, the National Republican Congressional Committee is airing radio ads criticizing 10 House Democrats over the shutdown, saying they voted to protect health care subsidies for themselves and their staff. The list of targets reads like a catalog of the most endangered Democrats.
The shutdown has also become a significant issue in a competitive gubernatorial race in Virginia, which depends heavily on the federal government.
Republican Ken Cuccinelli accuses Democrat Terry McAuliffe of being part of Washington stubbornness that led to the shutdown, while McAuliffe is airing television ads linking Cuccinelli to Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, a tea party Republican whom Democrats say has scared congressional Republicans out of compromising.
Scott Reed, who managed Republican Bob Dole's 1996 presidential campaign following two shutdowns, said the only clear way out for Republicans is through some type of "grand bargain" that includes increasing the debt ceiling — another looming deadline Congress must soon meet.
"The lesson from the last shutdown was that Republicans never had a real endgame," Reed said. "It's appearing to be deja vu all over again."
Follow Ken Thomas on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AP_Ken_Thomas and Josh Lederman at http://twitter.com/joshledermanAP
Also on HuffPost:
Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) speaks during the DC March for Jobs in Upper Senate Park near Capitol Hill, on July 15, 2013 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election In this Aug. 13, 2009, file photo, Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, talks about his trip on Wednesday to Bethel and Hooper Bay in Anchorage, Alaska. (AP Photo/Al Grillo, File)
Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election In this Aug. 2, 2013 file photo. Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark. is interviewed at his campaign office in Little Rock, Ark. (AP Photo/Danny Johnston, File)
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) speaks at a campaign rally for U.S. President Barack Obama at Sloan's Lake Park on October 4, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., watches election returns at the Delaware Democratic Party Election Night at the Queen theater in Wilmington, Del., Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Retiring FILE - In this April 21, 2010 file photo, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak, File)
Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for term ending 1/3/17 Brian Schatz smiles as he talks with reporters on the tarmac after deplaning Air Force One, Thursday, Dec. 27, 2012, at Andrews Air Force Base, Md. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
Sen. Jim Risch (R-Idaho)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election Newly elected Republican Senator Jim Risch, of Idaho poses for a photo in the office of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell November 17, 2008 at the US Capitol, in Washington, D.C. (MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election Senate Defense subcommittee Chairman Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. presides over the subcommittee's hearing to examine Defense Department leadership, Tuesday, June 11, 2013, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)
<strong>Status:</strong> Retiring FILE - In this Dec. 28, 2012 file photo Democratic Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, speaks during a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday, May 28, 2013, on a utility plant for the new federal biosecurity lab in Manhattan, Kan. (AP Photo/John Milburn)
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election FILE - In this July 30, 2013 file photo, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. speaks with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election FILE - In this Dec. 5, 2012 file photo, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La. is seen on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) speaks to members of the press during a news conference May 23, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election FILE - Senator-elect Ed Markey gives a thumbs-up while speaking at the Massachusetts state Democratic Convention in Lowell, Mass., in this July 13, 2013 file photo. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer, File)
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Retiring FILE - In this June 4, 2013, file photo, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. asks a question of a witness during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington on legislation regarding sexual assaults in the military. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election FILE -In this Oct. 4, 2011 file photo, Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn. speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington during a hearing on "Americas Agricultural Labor Crisis: Enacting a Practical Solution." (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election Republican US Senator from Mississippi Thad Cochran attends a joint press conference with US Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad and Iraqi Planning Minister Barhem Saleh (not seen), in Baghdad's Heavily fortified Green Zone, 19 April 2006. (SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images)
Sen. John Walsh (D-Mont.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for first full term while filling out the remainder of former Sen. Max Baucus's (D-Mont.) term This undated image provided by the Walsh campaign shows John Walsh, who announced his candidacy Thursday Oct. 3, 2013 for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by Max Baucus after next year. (AP Photo/Walsh Campaign)
Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Retiring Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., leaves the Jefferson Hotel after a dinner meeting hosted by President Barack Obama for a few Republican Senators in Washington, Wednesday, March 6, 2013. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) addresses a luncheon of Emily's List at the Hilton Washington Hotel January 18, 2009 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) speaks to the media after Senate joint caucus meeting, on Capitol Hill, July 15, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election FILE - In this Sept. 6, 2012, file photo Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina speaks at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C. In 2008. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) speaks during a news conference to announce a plan to defund the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, at the U.S. Capitol March 13, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election Senate Appropriations Committee member Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., holds up his Verizon cell phone as he questions Director of the National Security Agency (NSA), Gen. Keith B. Alexander, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 12, 2013, as Alexander testified before the committee's hearing on NSA surveillance. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
Sen. Jack Reed (D-R.I.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election U.S. Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI) questions Richard Cordray, nominee for director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, at a confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs on March 12, 2013 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham speaks during a joint press conference with fellow Republican Senator John McCain (unseen) on August 6, 2013 in Cairo. (GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images)
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for term ending 1/3/17 U.S. Rep. Tim Scott smiles during a press conference announcing him as Jim DeMint's replacement in the U.S. Senate at the South Carolina Statehouse on Monday, Dec. 17, 2012, in Columbia, S.C. (AP Photo/Rainier Ehrhardt)
Sen. Tim Johnson (D-S.D.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Retiring S.D. Senator Tim Johnson announces Tuesday, March 26, 2013 his retirement from the U.S. Senate after his term ends in early 2015 at the Al Neuharth Media Center in Vermillion, S.D. (AP Photo/Argus Leader, Jay Pickthorn)
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election WASHINGTON - MARCH 30: Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) questions witnesses on Capitol Hill on March 30, 2011 in Washington, D.C.(Photo by Brendan Hoffman/Getty Images)
Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 23, 2013, before the House Homeland Security subcommittee on Border and Maritime Security hearing on "A Study in Contrasts: House and Senate Approaches to Border Security". (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election In this Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 photo, United States Sen. Mark warner, D-Va., raises his fist and celebrates Sen.-elect Timothy Kaine's win over Republican George Allen during his victory party in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)
Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Retiring United States Sen. Jay Rockefeller announces at the Culture Center Great Hall in Charleston, W.Va., Friday Jan. 11, 2013 that he will not seek a sixth term. (AP Photo/Charleston Daily Mail,Craig Cunningham)
Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.)
<strong>Status:</strong> Running for re-election FILE - In this July 2, 2013 file photo, Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., speaks in Pine Bluffs, Wyo. (AP Photo/Ben Neary, File)