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Arizona special election 2018: ALS patient and activist Ady Barkan stumps for Democrat Hiral Tipirneni

Barkan got national attention for protesting the GOP tax bill last year.

Pelosi Holds Press Event With Health Care Advocates Denouncing GOP Tax Plan Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Progressive activist Ady Barkan, whose personal experiences with ALS received national recognition during the GOP’s tax bill vote last year, is gearing up for a new fight: helping Democrats win in 2018.

He’s starting with Tuesday’s special election in Arizona’s Eighth Congressional District, to replace former Republican Rep. Trent Franks. The Eighth District is a conservative one, and a long shot for Democrats, but they are putting their hopes in Hiral Tipirneni, a former doctor challenging Republican Debbie Lesko.

Still, given the district’s challenging landscape, national Democratic groups have been hesitant to spend in the race. Conservative outside groups have spent more than $700,000 supporting Lesko, compared to Democratic groups that have spent just over $14,000 on Tipirneni. That’s where Barkan comes in.

Barkan recently launched a new group called the Be a Hero Fund to help elect Democratic candidates in the midterms. As part of that, Barkan and his group planned to make a six-figure ad buy, starting a few weeks ago. The ads focus on Barkan’s struggles to obtain health coverage for his debilitating, expensive disease, and highlighting Republican plans to cut entitlement programs like Medicare and Medicaid.

Be a Hero is an offshoot of the Center for Popular Democracy’s CPD Action group (Barkan previously worked for the center) and will concentrate on boosting Democratic candidates focused on protecting health care and entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Obamacare, as well as ousting Republican incumbents who voted for the GOP tax plan or have voiced support for cutting entitlements.

Barkan has thrown his support behind Tipirneni in part because of her background as a doctor as well as her laser-like focus on health care (something Democrats as a party are sure to focus on in the 2018 midterms).

Vox’s Tara Golshan writes of Tipirneni:

Her campaign has focused on deriding Republicans’ efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and cut Medicaid, and their voiced interest in slashing Medicare and Social Security. She supports Medicare expansion and instituting a public option, which would run alongside the private sector.

In the wake of his fight on health care issues around the GOP tax bill last year, Barkan has latched onto that message.

“I think this race epitomizes the big questions about health care in America,” the activist told the Arizona Republic’s Ronald Hansen in an interview.

Getting involved in 2018 is an evolution of Barkan’s anti-tax bill activism

This is a familiar fight for Barkan. He spent the latter part of last year on Capitol Hill peacefully protesting the GOP tax bill, getting arrested by Capitol Hill police in the process. A video of Barkan confronting Republican Sen. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) on a plane about the tax bill went viral. During his interaction with Flake, Barkan urged the Arizona senator to vote “no” on the final tax bill.

“You can be an American hero, you really can,” Barkan told Flake. “You’re halfway there. If the votes match the speech, think about the legacy that you will have for my son, and your grandchildren, if you take your principles and turn them into votes. You can save my life.”

Barkan was so focused on the tax bill because he and many others feared Republicans would target entitlement programs like Medicare, Social Security, and Medicaid in order to pay for the tax bill, which contained $1.5 trillion worth of tax cuts and is expected to increase the national deficit by about $1 billion.

Flake ultimately voted for the tax bill.

Earlier this year, Vox caught up with Barkan in his Washington, DC, hotel room as he was in the middle of doing media appearance and leading protests. Barkan walked slowly, with assistance from a cane, and tried to spend as much time in a wheelchair to help conserve his energy.

The energy it took Barkan to move around Capitol Hill and meet with Republican and Democratic senators alike to lobby for “no” votes for the tax bill was immense. ALS had made it difficult for him to speak, and he wasn’t sleeping much and was fighting off a head cold at the time — which only make him feel weaker.

“Yeah, it takes work, and it would be easier to stay in the hotel room and sleep,” he said. “But if we’re going to save this country, we have to work hard at it and sometimes make some personal sacrifices.”

Ultimately, Barkan’s personal plea wasn’t enough to win over key Republicans including Flake and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), who both voted for the tax bill. But by getting involved in 2018, Barkan hopes he can help shape what the next Congress looks like — and, by extension, what legislation it votes on in the future.