Republican mayoral nominee Joe Lhota sought to distance himself from his party's role in the shutdown of the federal government Tuesday as Democratic rival Bill de Blasio painted Lhota and the tea party movement as one and the same.
Using words like "flat-out wrong," "extremists," and "big mistake," Lhota chastised congressional Republicans for trying to delay the implementation of the Affordable Care Act in exchange for keeping the government running.
"The hang-up on Obamacare in this particular case is wrong. Using it as leverage is wrong. Shutting down the government, in this case, is wrong," Lhota told reporters in midtown Manhattan.
Lhota said he supports "major parts" of the ACA, which extends health insurance to more Americans. He declined to specify what parts he opposes.
De Blasio hit back with an email accusing Lhota of "amnesia on support for tea party," which is leading the charge to repeal the law.
De Blasio's campaign also created a Tumblr website called "Goldwater + Tea Party + Giuliani = Lhota" -- a reference to Lhota's political hero, 1964 GOP presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, and former Mayor Rudy Giuliani, for whom Lhota worked as budget czar and deputy mayor.
"What kind of Republican is Joe Lhota?" de Blasio's website asks. It goes on to list links quoting Lhota expressing an affinity for the tea party; Goldwater attacking the Civil Rights Act; and Giuliani calling Lhota "an ideological Republican."
While recently telling the The New York Times that he admired Goldwater, Lhota said he vehemently disagreed with the late U.S. senator from Arizona's position on some issues, including civil rights.
Lhota also sought to qualify his statement to a Staten Island tea party group that their philosophy is "very close" to his own. Lhota said he and the group had a "huge, verbally violent discussion," clashing on gun control.
Lhota said of the tea party: "I think they're a bad force for the Republican party. And they're extremists and they're moving the party in a direction that I think is wrong."
He added. "There is a role for government in this world. They basically don't believe there should be government."
Lhota faces an uphill battle in a city where Democrats outnumber Republicans 6-1.