The imagery is reminiscent of an iconic 1995 New York Daily News "CRY BABY" cover that portrayed former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, as a bottle-toting, diaper-clad infant in mid-tantrum during that year's partial government shutdown.
Democrats won't be untouched by the dysfunction, strategists in both parties say. In recent days, House Republicans have passed measures that would fund popular programs including veterans' services and the National Institutes of Health. The Senate, which Democrats control by five seats, never took them up, saying all of government should open. Republican groups have run attack ads against House Democrats who opposed the measures.
"Vulnerable Democrats are going to have to explain next year why they voted against veterans' pay, against funding for low-income families and against funding for cancer research," said Andrea Bozek, a spokeswoman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
During the last shutdown, the confrontation persisted into the 1996 election year, in which Republicans lost two House seats while keeping their majority in the chamber.
Whether next year's balloting will repeat that dynamic depends largely on how the deadlock is resolved, said Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the former chairman of his party's House campaign committee.
For Republicans, if the struggle ultimately leads to a broader budget deal that pares the deficit, Cole said, "it can be a very good thing, but if it's mishandled and we defaulted and kept the government shut down much longer, then I think it's got the potential of being a very bad thing."
Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, who earlier this year began a study of his partisan adversaries, said Republicans have already inflicted what may be irreparable damage on their reputation. Named Democratic candidates had a 4-point advantage over Republicans when likely voters were asked who they plan to vote for in his latest Democracy Corps survey, he said, a 5- point shift from July, when Democrats were 1 point behind.
"What's happened with the shutdown is that the House Republicans have made themselves the center of the story, and the intensity we are seeing as a result is in the hostility to the Republican Congress," Greenberg said in an interview. "For the first time, I think they've created the possibility of significant changes in the House."