WASHINGTON — Political groups in Maine are trying to capitalize on congressional votes in the government shutdown stalemate to target Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic Rep. Mike Michaud as the two politicians approach the 2014 elections.

The shutdown, entering its fourth day Friday, is likely a boon for political operatives as members of Congress from both parties cast votes that will make easy fodder for attack ads in the next election.

The shutdown is already being used in ads for both major candidates in Virginia’s gubernatorial election this fall. And it appears that Maine’s political parties hope to seize on the issues in next year’s races.

Maine Republicans issued a statement Thursday that heavily criticized Michaud — the top Democrat on the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee and a candidate for governor — for his vote on a veterans-related bill “that contradicts everything the Maine people think they know about Congressman Michaud.”

Maine Republican Party Chairman Rick Bennett quickly followed up with a fundraising appeal asking supporters to help “hold Mike Michaud accountable and stop him from taking the Blaine House in 2014.”

Maine Democrats, meanwhile, continued their assault on Collins — who will be up for re-election next year — for saying she opposed the Republican-led effort to link Obamacare with keeping the government running, then voted with her party to defund or delay the health care law.

“Sen. Collins can pat herself on the back all she wants for sternly worded PR statements, but when it’s time to stand up and be counted, she’s just one of the GOP lemmings taking the U.S. economy over the cliff,” said Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant said in a prepared statement.

In both cases, the Maine politicians voted the same way as most or all of their party colleagues, reflecting Republicans’ and Democrats’ entrenched positions.

Collins and Michaud insist there is much more to their votes than the opposing parties would have Mainers believe.

Michaud has, in fact, voted against three Republican-sponsored bills to fund veterans’ benefits programs and pay National Guard and Reserve personnel during the shutdown. Thirty-six Democrats voted for the National Guard bill.

The measure has little chance of passing in the Democratic-controlled Senate. Democrats in both chambers, including Michaud, have called on Republicans to pass a bill funding all of government rather than “piecemeal” attempts to solve problems created by the shutdown.

In a floor speech Thursday, Michaud called the legislation to fund veterans’ benefits during the shutdown “nothing more than a political ploy” and accused Republicans of using veterans as political pawns. He is a co-sponsor of a bipartisan bill that would avoid similar situations in the future by essentially pre-funding veterans’ benefits programs.

“My colleagues on the other side of the aisle say a vote against this bill is a vote to block veterans’ services,” Michaud said before the vote. “It’s actually this government shutdown, which they’ve caused, that threatens the VA’s ability to provide services for our veterans.”

Michaud also co-authored letters to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel arguing that a bill already passed by Congress and signed by Obama authorizes the Pentagon to pay National Guard personnel during the shutdown. More than 400 civilian technicians who work for the Maine Army or Air National Guard have been furloughed without pay.

Collins has been under fire for what critics contend are hypocritical votes intended to placate both sides in the shutdown debate. Collins, who plans to seek a fourth term next year, has countered that there is nothing hypocritical about her votes.

She has been an outspoken critic of attempts by some of her colleagues to link the temporary budget bill to the Affordable Care Act — Obamacare. Collins has called it an unwinnable strategy that will only lead to a harmful shutdown because President Obama and Senate Democrats would never support the bill.

She was criticized by some conservative and tea party groups in Maine and nationally for voting to end debate in the Senate on the two-part bill, effectively opening the procedural door for Democrats. But she has consistently voted since then with other Republicans to defund, delay or alter Obamacare, leading to accusations that she is helping to prolong the shutdown and appeasing the tea party.

Collins was not available for comment Thursday. But in an interview Wednesday for WCSH-TV’s evening news program, she said her votes reflect her continued opposition to a health care law that she believes will drive up costs for consumers and hurt small businesses.

“So, to be consistent, I am going to continue to support changes in the law, attempts to repeal it or to change it in ways that I think will be helpful to the people of Maine,” Collins said. “Nevertheless, I disagree with the strategy that the House has adopted — encouraged by some of our Republican senators — linking the funding of government to repeal or defunding of Obamacare.”

That explanation fell short for Grant, the Democratic chairman. In his statement, he said Maine voters will have a chance next year to choose someone “who has consistent values and who actually stands up to the GOP with their votes, not just with their rhetoric.”

The allusion to the 2014 election may signal a shift for Maine Democrats. While the party occasionally criticizes Collins publicly, the party has not typically referred to her upcoming election.

That may be because no Democrats have stepped up to challenge a popular incumbent with more than $2 million in her campaign war chest.

But some Democrats appear to be energized by rumors that Shenna Bellows, who stepped down recently as head of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, is considering a run against Collins.

Late Thursday, Maine Republicans responded to Democrats’ criticism of Collins with a statement that suggests Mainers should expect to keep hearing about the shutdown and Obamacare during next year’s campaigns.

“If the Maine Democratic Party thinks running on Obamacare in 2014 is a good strategy, that explains why they haven’t won a U.S. Senate race in 25 years,” said Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 317-6256 or at:

kmiller@mainetoday.com