The Republican slam on Minnesota Democrat Collin Peterson is that he supports the so-called sequester, “but won’t cut funding for robotic squirrels.”

The Democratic attack on Minnesota Republican Erik Paulsen is that he “turns a blind eye to thousands of jobs in jeopardy.”

It remains to be seen how onerous the automatic sequester budget cuts will be for ordinary Americans. But amid a growing recognition that the cuts are here to stay, they’ve turned into a powerful fundraising and political tool for lawmakers in Washington and their political parties.

With an eye toward midterm elections next year that could determine President Obama’s second-term legacy, the Democratic and Republican campaign arms in Congress are in full attack mode, with sequester cuts as the weapon of choice.

In Minnesota, much of the Republican fire has been directed at Peterson, a moderate DFLer in a Republican-tilting district that the GOP hopes could help it retain control of the U.S. House.

The Democrats, meanwhile, have aimed primarily at Paulsen, a potential challenger to U.S. Sen. Al Franken.

The crossfire comes amid deepening partisan rifts that show no sign of producing a deal to avert the $1.2 trillion in across-the-board spending cuts that both parties say they oppose.

In the absence of meaningful negotiations to block the cuts, which took effect at the start of this month, the White House and its allies mounted a public awareness campaign highlighting the potential impacts, including more than 16,000 lost jobs and $821 million in vanished income in Minnesota.

Democrats blame the Republicans for forcing the cuts by refusing to go along with new tax increases on the wealthy, what the Democrats call a “balanced” approach to deficit reduction that they believe has public support. Meanwhile, Republicans accuse the Democrats of trying to grandstand on the sequester by making budget cuts in the most visible ways possible.

Bachmann in the mix

When the White House announced last week that new budget constraints would force it to close the executive mansion to public tours, MichelePAC, the political action committee for Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., sprang into action.

“Our founders would be ashamed,” Bachmann said in a fundraising pitch to supporters. “After manufacturing a ‘sequester’ crisis of his own creation and attempting to mislead and bully his way into blaming Republicans, President Obama has reached a new low: He’s shut the American people out of the White House!”

Bachmann has herself borne the brunt of attacks by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), which has attempted to tie GOP lawmakers to hard-line positions on the debt ceiling and budget cuts. Democrats argue that it was GOP intransigence that brought on the sequester, a regimen of threatened across-the-board cuts that were never meant to take effect.

Paulsen, Kline: ‘Dumb cuts’

But as Bachmann has faded from the public spotlight since her narrow re-election victory in November, Paulsen’s star has risen in GOP party ranks, making him the new poster child for Democratic attacks on the sequester.

“The people of congressman Paulsen’s district want solutions, not sequester,” DCCC spokeswoman Emily Bittner said in a recent statement. “We’re about to go through yet another crisis manufactured by congressman Paulsen and the Tea Party Republicans.”

Paulsen, who represents the Twin Cities’ affluent western suburbs, is not usually identified with the Tea Party side of the GOP. But he and fellow Minnesota Republican John Kline, another contender for statewide office, became the targets of a new digital ad, “A Bunch of Dumb Cuts,” launched by the liberal group Alliance for a Better Minnesota.

“Given Paulsen and Kline’s potential statewide runs in 2014,” the group said in a statement, “the ad campaign focuses on political insiders and plugged-in constituents in their districts through an online and Twitter ad campaign modeled after the Obama campaign’s online targeting.”

Peterson: ‘Robo squirrels’

The sequester also has become fodder for a new Web ad aimed at Peterson, who represents the northwestern side of the state. The ad is part of a national GOP effort to target Democrats in Republican-leaning districts.

Although Peterson regularly wins elections by double digits on the strength of his deep involvement in farm policy, a recent National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) memo notes that his is one of five districts nationwide in which the GOP did better in the 2012 presidential election than it did in 2008.

Peterson has made no secret of his belief that the sequester, as ill-timed and ill-targeted as it may be, could present a unique opportunity to chip away meaningfully at the nation’s $16 trillion debt problem.

But NRCC spokeswoman Alleigh Marré, borrowing from the dire warnings of the Obama administration, accused Peterson of rejecting GOP alternatives “despite the devastating effect it will have on Minnesota families.”

In keeping with the political theater of the sequester debate, the Web ad against Peterson features a squirrel, symbolizing a project using “robo squirrels” to study the natural interaction of squirrels and rattlesnakes. The project has been used by the GOP as an example of wasteful government spending, though it’s never been the subject of a direct congressional vote.