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The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has released a new ad campaign targeting 17 House Republicans who voted in favor of Paul Ryan’s “Path to Prosperity” budget plan.

The web campaign revives a Democratic attack line from the 2012 presidential election, labeling Ryan’s budget as “Robin Hood in reverse.”

Although the ads are ostensibly targeting 17 different vulnerable representatives — the version above is designed to hit California’s David Valadao — Ryan is the undisputed star. The ads feature Ryan explaining that the budget is “an expression of our budgeting philosophy,” interspersed with clips of political analysts describing how Ryan hopes to cut benefits and radically shrink the federal government.

The ad ends with onscreen text naming the target congressperson, and declaring “The Radical Republican Budget: Help the rich get richer. Soak the middle class & seniors.”

According to Talking Points Memo, the ads will target the following representatives:

AR-02 Tim Griffin
AR-04 Tom Cotton
CA-21 David Valadao
CA-31 Gary Miller
CO-06 Mike Coffman
IN-08 Larry Bucshon
MN-02 John Kline
MN-03 Erik Paulsen
NE-02 Lee Terry
NJ-03 Jon Runyan
NY-11 Michael Grimm
NY-23 Tom Reed
OH-14 David Joyce
OH-16 Jim Renacci
PA-08 Mike Fitzpatrick
VA-02 Scott Rigell
WA-03 Jaime Herrera Beutler

The new campaign provides some insight into how Democrats hope to win House elections across the country in 2014. Polling suggests that vast majorities of Americans oppose almost every cut suggested by Ryan, and Ryan’s personal approval rating plummeted to 35 percent in a recent Rasmussen poll — down from 50 percent before he became Mitt Romney’s running mate in August.

Democrats face an uphill battle to capture the net 17 seats that they need to regain the majority in the House of Representatives, but this campaign shows how they plan to fight it: by running against Ryan and his extreme budget at every opportunity.

Photo by expertinfantry/ CC BY 2.0

At this moment, the president of the United States is threatening to "throw out" the votes of millions of Americans to hijack an election that he seems more than likely to lose. Donald Trump is openly demanding that state authorities invalidate lawful absentee ballots, no different from the primary ballot he mailed to his new home state of Florida, for the sole purpose of cheating. And his undemocratic scheme appears to enjoy at least nominal support from the Supreme Court, which may be called upon to adjudicate the matter.

But what is even worse than Trump's coup plot — and the apparent assent of unprincipled jurists such as Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh — is the Democratic Party's feeble response to this historic outrage. It is the kind of issue that Republicans, with their well-earned reputation for political hardball, would know how to exploit fully and furiously.

They know because they won the same game in Florida 20 years ago.

During that ultimate legal showdown between George W. Bush and Al Gore, when every single vote mattered, a Democratic lawyer argued in a memorandum to the Gore team that the validity of absentee ballots arriving after Election Day should be challenged. He had the law on his side in that particular instance — but not the politics.

As soon as the Republicans got hold of that memo, they realized that it was explosive. Why? Many of the late ballots the Democrats aimed to invalidate in Florida had been sent by military voters, and the idea of discarding the votes of service personnel was repellent to all Americans. Former Secretary of State James Baker, who was overseeing the Florida recount for Bush, swiftly denounced the Democratic plot against the soldiers, saying: "Here we have ... these brave young men and women serving us overseas. And the postmark on their ballot is one day late. And you're going to deny him the right to vote?"

Never mind the grammar; Baker's message was powerful — and was followed by equally indignant messages in the following days from a parade of prominent Bush backers including retired Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf, the immensely popular commander of U.S. troops in the Desert Storm invasion that drove Saddam Hussein's army out of Kuwait. Fortuitously, Schwarzkopf happened to be on the scene as a resident of Florida.

As Jeffrey Toobin recounted in Too Close to Call, his superb book on the Florida 2000 fiasco, the Democrats had no choice but to retreat. "I would give the benefit of the doubt to ballots coming in from military personnel," conceded then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Gore's running mate, during a defensive appearance on Meet the Press. But Toobin says Gore soon realized that to reject military ballots would render him unable to serve as commander in chief — and that it would be morally wrong.

Fast-forward to 2020, when many of the same figures on the Republican side are now poised to argue that absentee ballots, which will include many thousands of military votes — should not be counted after Election Day, even if they arrived on time. Among those Republicans is Justice Kavanaugh, who made the opposite argument as a young lawyer working for Bush in Florida 20 years ago. Nobody expects legal consistency or democratic morality from a hack like him, but someone should force him and his Republican colleagues to own this moment of shame.

Who can do that? Joe Biden's campaign and the Democratic Party ought to be exposing the Republican assault on military ballots — and, by the same token, every legally valid absentee ballot — every day. But the Democrats notoriously lack the killer instinct of their partisan rivals, even at a moment of existential crisis like this one.

No, this is clearly a job for the ex-Republicans of the Lincoln Project, who certainly recall what happened in Florida in 2000. They have the attitude and aptitude of political assassins. They surely know how to raise hell over an issue like military votes — and now is the time to exercise those aggressive skills in defense of democracy.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.