The negative economic results of the looming sequester could have a major impact on national politics over the next few months and years, especially in military-heavy regions that are expected to feel the effects of the spending cuts faster and more deeply than other areas. That could ratchet up the political heat on politicians from those states and districts — and play a major role in campaigns across the country.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that the sequester will cost the economy 750,000 jobs, and the Pentagon has already warned that it will have to furlough 800,000 military employees over the next year if current policy is not changed.
President Obama and Democrats seem more confident than Republicans that the fight will benefit them politically, and polls indicate they may be right. In a recent Pew Research Poll, 49 percent of voters said they’d blame congressional Republicans for its effects while 31 percent say they’d blame Obama. There’s plenty of volatility, however. The poll also showed few are closely following the debate, which could change quickly if its economic impacts start being felt by voters.
Half of the $85 billion in pending cuts are from the military. Even if Congress decides to replace or delay some cuts during the late March debate over shutting down the government, some will still go into effect before then. Here are five political campaigns where the fight over sequestration could loom large:
Virginia governor’s race
Nowhere will feel the impacts of sequestration more immediately and harshly than Virginia, and with the governor’s race set to take place this November the fight may be fresher than in other places.
The state relies heavily on federal government spending, with a high number of military bases, a federal shipyard in the Tidewater region and defense contractors all over Northern Virginia.
Virginia could lose 200,000 Virginia jobs if the full 10-year sequester takes place, according to one study. Mitt Romney, 2012 Senate candidate George Allen (R) and Rep. Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) Democratic opponent all focused on it in their Virginia campaigns.
Terry McAuliffe, Democrats’ likely gubernatorial nominee, ripped the plan.
"Sequestration is an unbelievable drag on Virginia’s economy that is already being felt because politicians in Washington can’t come together to find a solution,” he said in a statement to The Hill.
“Extreme politicians who oppose compromise are threatening Virginia’s economy with continued gridlock. It is time for mainstream leaders of both parties to come together and find a common sense solution. We simply can not afford any more rigid ideological posturing when hundreds of thousands of Virginia jobs are on the line."
GOP nominee and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) told The Hill last week that sequestration was “not a policy,” but didn’t weigh in on whether or not it should be averted or replaced by other cuts. He did say that the government had to eventually “spend within its means and Virginia, no doubt, with one third of its economy based on federal jobs, will take a hit on that.”
South Carolina 1st District special election
The special election to fill Sen. Tim Scott’s (R-S.C.) old House seat could also turn on the sequester.
The district is rooted in Charleston, an area that remains heavily dependent on military and defense jobs — the Charleston Joint Air Force Base and the defense contractor hub at the Charleston Naval Weapons Station could both severely feel its impact.
Many military veterans have also retired along the coast, near Myrtle Beach and Beaufort. It’s no wonder why Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), one of sequestration’s most vocal critics, hails from the state.
The timing of the race could also put it in the spotlight. Military furloughs are set to kick in on April 1, the day before the GOP primary runoff election will be held, and the general election will be held shortly after that on May 7.
Candidates in the crowded Republican primary field, which includes former South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R), are fighting over who is the most fiscally conservative. While the sequester has yet to become a major issue its effects could emerge just as the election kicks into high gear.
The district leans strongly Republican but Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch is running a strong campaign so far, helped by brother Stephen Colbert’s support. The race could be competitive — especially if the GOP nominates someone with baggage, like Sanford, or if the Republican nominee has voiced support for the sequester like some Tea Party Republicans have.
Rep. Mike Coffman’s (R-Colo.) reelection
Coffman faces a tough reelection battle in a suburban Denver district President Obama won in 2012 — he’s likely to face former Colorado House Speaker Andrew Romanoff (D).
The greater Denver area has a number of major Air Force bases, and its economy is heavily reliant on its aerospace industry and defense contractors.
Coffman voted for the bipartisan plan that created the sequester as part of avoiding the debt ceiling. But since then he has vocally opposed leaving it in place, writing a June op-ed in The Hill attacking it as a “hollowing out of our military.” He plans to introduce legislation next week seeking to replace the cuts.
Romanoff has yet to publicly weigh in, but Coffman was one of the 27 Republicans the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee attacked with a web ad on the "consequences of tea party" budgeting this week.
Iowa Senate race
The military isn’t the only part of government facing furloughs: Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack (D) has warned the sequester could lead to cuts in assistance to states for pest and disease prevention for crops, “potentially leading to more extensive outbreaks and economic losses to farmers and ranchers.”
He also warned of furloughs to the Food Safety and Inspection Service that could trigger a shutdown of meat and poultry plants because of a shortage of inspectors and could cost billions in lost production and hundreds of millions in lost wages.
Vilsack’s home state of Iowa is heavily dependent on farming — more than half the state’s population is still rural — as well as poultry and pork production. If those plants shut down it could hurt workers statewide.
Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) retirement could lead to a highly competitive race to replace him where these cuts could come up, even though every Iowa lawmaker in Congress opposed the initial plan.
Rep. Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) is the early front-runner to be the Democratic nominee, while Reps. Steve King (R-Iowa) and Tom Latham (R-Iowa) are both considering runs for the seat. All three voted against the bill, though for very different reasons.
Alaska Senate race
Alaska is another state that will be disproportionately hit, and Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) is likely to face a tough reelection battle.
The state has a large number of Air Force and Navy bases and more than one quarter of the state is directly employed by the government, one of the highest figures in the country. There are also many defense contractors in the state.
On top of that, many programs aimed at Native Americans are facing cuts, potentially hurting approximately 15 percent of Alaska’s population.
Begich voted for the plan, but has voiced frustration since that Congress hasn’t addressed long-term deficit spending.
“Worst case scenario, we get to March first and the cuts go into play, everyone is scampering around, and we get to the continuing resolution at the end of the month, and we just continue the resolution until the end of the fiscal year, and tell appropriators work on next year’s budget,” Begich said earlier this month.