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CD2: NECK AND NECK

Republican congressional candidate Martha McSally's campaign released a poll last week showing her leading Democratic Congressman Ron Barber by 3 percentage points in Southern Arizona's Congressional District 2.

The survey, done by polling firm OnMessage, shows McSally at 45 percent and Barber at 42 percent. That margin is within the poll's margin of error of plus/minus 4.9 percent.

McSally spokeswoman Kristen Douglas said in a press release that the poll showed Barber is "in big trouble and voters are ready for a fresh start. The numbers speak for themselves: The more Southern Arizonans know Ron Barber, the less they want him to represent them."

Barber's campaign team declined to release internal poll numbers but said the OnMessage poll did not match up with its recent survey numbers.

"Southern Arizonans are going to support Ron Barber in November because we know that he is on our side," said Barber spokeswoman Ashley Nash-Hahn. "He is not going to vote for a reckless plan to raise taxes on the middle class and strangle Medicare, which is what Martha McSally said she would vote for."

OnMessage did early polling in the 2012 race between Barber and McSally; Barber narrowly defeated McSally in that contest by about 2,500 votes. In the August 2012 survey, OnMessage showed McSally trailing Barber by 5 percentage points.

The polling memo released last week suggests that Barber is being dragged down by the unpopularity of President Barack Obama and the Affordable Care Act.

"What's important to note here is the extent to which the President's floundering ratings are hurting Barber," pollsters Wes Anderson and Kayla Sulzer noted. "We're dealing with a Congressman who is doing everything he can to convince the voters he's an independently-minded moderate, yet 85 percent of voters who disapprove of Barber also disapprove of President Obama, highlighting the extent to which voters undoubtedly connect the two."

The pollsters predicted that the Affordable Care Act would be a serious problem for Barber in the Novemer election.

"The president's signature legislative accomplishment continues to become more and more unpopular among second district voters and there is no evidence to suggest that trend will change any time soon," they wrote. "As a result voters, especially swing voters, are steadily moving away from Barber. While this race will undoubtedly remain close to the end, national trends and McSally's efforts have now placed the race in her favor."

We expect we'll see more surveys from third parties, likely also showing a close race, between now and November.

CD2: THE MEDICAID PRESCRIPTION

Now that we've covered the horse race stuff, let's dig into a little policy in the Congressional District 2 race.

Last week, in a story on Medicare policy, I mistakenly referenced Medicaid instead of Medicare on two occasions. (See "Budget Battle," April 24.) I regret the dumb screw-up.

But as long as we're (accidentally) talking about Medicaid, let's dig into what Congressman Ron Barber and likely GOP opponent Martha McSally think of the program that provides health care for America's poorest citizens.

Last year, Gov. Jan Brewer led a political battle to expand Medicaid for Arizonans who earn up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level. On her side in that fight: The hospitals and other members of the healthcare sector; the business community as represented by a long list of chambers of commerce; Arizona's Democrats; and a few Republican lawmakers who crossed party lines. Opposed to the plan: Most of the Republican state lawmakers, the Goldwater Institute, the Koch Bros.-backed state chapter of Americans for Prosperity and many GOP activists.

Brewer won the fight, although the expansion is still being challenged in court. (Last week, opponents of the expansion won an appeals court decision that revives their case against the expansion; the Arizona Supreme Court will eventually weigh in as to whether the case can proceed.)

The Ryan budget plan recently passed by the House of Representatives calls for the nationwide repeal of the Medicaid expansion and proposes to replace federal standards for Medicaid with block grants to states, which could then determine their own standards for providing health care to low-income residents.

Barber backed Brewer's decision to push for the expansion. In general, Barber supports the Medicaid expansion that was part of the Affordable Care Act, although he also—like every other politician in the country—opposes waste, fraud and abuse in the system, according to Barber campaign spokeswoman Ashley Nash-Hahn, who noted legislation that Barber has supported to reduce those problems.

McSally told the Weekly a few months ago that the Medicaid expansion was a state issue that she didn't think she should weigh in on.

But the issue is linked to McSally's promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act, given that scrapping Obamacare would mean those federal dollars attached to the expansion would go away.

McSally said she was "not a big fan of Medicaid. I just think there are other ways to help people who are seriously in need ... You can just give people a subsidy, for crying out loud. Let them go buy their own health insurance."

That's actually what the Affordable Care Act does for people who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but McSally also wants to repeal that portion of the Affordable Care Act. While she has committed to repeal of the ACA, she has yet to put forward a plan for replacement, other than to say that the popular parts of the Affordable Care Act (such as protections for people with pre-existing conditions or allowing kids to stay on their parents' health insurance until they reach age 26) should be part of any replacement strategy and unpopular elements (such as the mandate to purchase health insurance) should be done away with.

McSally said she didn't like Medicaid because it's a "government-run program that has not shown itself to be incredible effective." She prefers allowing the private sector to provide a solution.

But Arizona actually doesn't do a traditional Medicaid program. Instead, the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System, or AHCCCS, contracts with private health insurers to provide health coverage to low-income Arizonans. Reminded of Arizona's innovative program, which is often held up as a model for the nation, McSally said she was not an expert on healthcare policy and suggested the best way to solve the problem of providing low-income Arizonans with health coverage was to ensure that there were no low-income Arizonans.

"We need to do the best we can to help people find better jobs so they can actually afford their health care while we try to bring the costs down," McSally said. "We need to have thoughtful solutions."

AS WE PREDICTED...

A few weeks back, The Skinny reported that Pima County Supervisor Ally Miller's chief of staff, Jennifer Coyle, had called it quits.

At the time, we predicted two things: First, that more resignations were on the way; and secondly, that Coyle's replacement would be Jeannie Davis Haldersen, who served as a spokeswoman for Republican Sean Collins' effort to unseat Pima County Supervisor Ray Carroll in the 2012 GOP primary.

So far, we're batting .500. No one else has yet bolted from Miller's staff, but Haldersen has reported for duty in recent days. Her addition to the staff isn't likely to help warm relations between Miller—who has frequently accused her fellow supervisors with corruption and ineptitude—and her colleagues on the 11th floor.

Find early and late-breaking Skinny at The Range, our daily dispatch at daily.tucsonweekly.com

More by Jim Nintzel

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