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The Arizona GOP is attacking a Democrat by tying him to Paul Ryan

Dylan Matthews is a senior correspondent and head writer for Vox's Future Perfect section and has worked at Vox since 2014. He is particularly interested in global health and pandemic prevention, anti-poverty efforts, economic policy and theory, and conflicts about the right way to do philanthropy.

Rep. Ron Barber (D-AZ) is in one of closest House races in the country. He's leading in the only recent poll but his Republican opponent — Air Force veteran Martha McSally, the first woman to fly in combat — lost to him by less than a percentage point in 2012, and Republicans are outspending Democrats on TV ads in the district. Derek Willis at the New York Times reports that the race has attracted $9.5 million in outside spending, more than all but two other House races.

The latest GOP tactic in the election is fascinating. The Arizona Republican Party apparently sent out this direct mailer (passed along by Vox reader Richard Serlin) attacking Ron Barber for being too close to … Paul Ryan:

barber mailer

(Arizona Republican Party via Richard Serlin)

The Arizona Republican Party has not responded to repeated requests to verify the flyer is theirs.

It's important to clarify that the mailer is not attacking Barber for supporting the House Republican budget, which Ryan designed and which is often referred to as the "Ryan budget." Barber voted against that budget in both 2013 and 2014.

What the mailer is attacking Barber for is supporting a small-bore budget compromise worked out by Ryan and Senate Budget Committee chair Patty Murray (D-WA). Ezra Klein laid out the details of the deal in this blog post (cited in the mailer!) but the gist was that it replaced $85 billion of the budget sequestration, meaning fewer mindless across-the-board cuts.

That said, the mailer actually correct in every particular. The deal did cut pensions for younger veterans. That cut was later reversed through a bill that Barber voted for, but he did support the original one, with veteran cuts (federal workers also saw their pensions cuts, a change that has not been reversed). The deal also failed to reverse a cut to food stamps that took effect on November 1, 2013, and failed to prevent an unemployment insurance expansion supporting 1.3 million people from expiring at the start of 2014. And because it was meant as a small-scale deal to keep the government running, rather than a grand bargain to reduce the long-run fiscal gap, it didn't touch Social Security or Medicare.

Democrats didn't like the deal because it was too far to the right and Republicans didn't like it because it was too far to the left but both sides thought it better than simply letting sequestration grind on. But the specific attack the mailer is making — that the deal didn't do enough for people on food stamps and that it didn't help the unemployed — place its message to the left of President Obama and Congressional Democrats. Sure, they would have preferred to extend unemployment benefits, but they agreed to a deal without an extension, and Obama followed this deal up by signing another $8.7 billion in food stamp cuts.

That is to say, the Arizona Republican Party is calling cuts to food stamps, veterans' pensions, and unemployment insurance "hair-raising for Arizona." That is … not on message for the Republican Party, given that they support budgets with much deeper cuts to all those programs than Democrats have permitted.

Updated: Serlin also sends along the back of the mailer, which is less politically relevant but also more practical for costume purposes:

ron barber mask
(Arizona Republican Party via Richard Serlin)

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