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Lawyers for Democratic House candidate Christine Jennings threw down the gauntlet yesterday, asking a state court to secure electronic voting machines and data used in the election.

The move would preserve the equipment in Florida's Sarasota County for scrutiny by Jennings' legal team. A hearing on the suit is scheduled for this afternoon.

It's just the first step of what is likely to be a litigious aftermath to a close and ugly election (thanks in part to the NRCC's rampant robo calling in the district). The state began a recount and audit of the election yesterday. Once the audit and second recount is completed and the results certified on November 20th, the Jennings campaign has ten days to contest the results of the election if they still show Jennings down. Before the recounting began, she was down 386 votes.

The fight will center around the district's Sarasota County, where the electronic machines did not register a vote in the Congressional race for 18,000 voters (13%) -- what's called an "undervote." That's compared to only 2.53% of voters who did not vote in the race via absentee ballots.

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Here's something to keep an eye on in the new Congress.

There's convincing evidence out there that Rep. Tim Murphy (R-PA) unethically used his congressional staff to aid his re-election campaign. Will the House Ethics Committee do anything about it?

A couple of weeks ago, a reporter confronted Murphy with documents showing he'd violated ethics rules by having staffers work on his campaign. Murphy's outraged response indicates how seriously he takes the charge: he snatched the paper away from a local reporter -- with cameras rolling. After the election, he fired the whisteblowing staffer. She violated his office's policy forbidding contact with the press, he said.

So here's the question: Will the House ethics panel step in to investigate the matter? In the past two years, they have not initiated a probe of a single member who is not also the subject of a federal inquiry. Here's their chance to become useful again.

Lo, how the mighty have fallen.

From this morning's Wheeling (WV) Intelligencer:

The Robert W. Ney Center soon could be renamed “The Ohio University Eastern Health and Physical Education Center.” That is the suggestion of the OUE Regional Coordinating Council, which met late Monday afternoon at Shannon Hall. . . .

Belmont County Western Division Court Judge Harry W. White — chairman of the council — delivered a statement indicating that while OUE officials appreciated Ney’s support leading to the construction of the facility, they would recommend that his name be removed from the OUE athletic complex.

Lewis' Top Approps Spot May Be Threatened "As the House GOP grapples with a half-dozen leadership races on the ballot Friday, a similarly important decision awaits the Republican Conference next month: whether to keep Rep. Jerry Lewis [R-CA] as the top Republican on the Appropriations Committee.

"Lewis is not facing term limits in his position, and normally a chairman would have no trouble moving smoothly into a ranking member slot. But a combination of circumstances — most notably the ongoing federal investigation of Lewis and some remaining hurt feelings from this year’s earmark reform debate — have made Lewis’ path into the ranking member post less smooth.

“'I think he’s out,' predicted a senior GOP leadership aide.

"That aide and other leadership sources said they believed the bad publicity associated with the ongoing investigation of Lewis would be enough to make the Republican Steering Committee — which likely will meet to hand out panel assignments in December — leery of keeping Lewis in his post." (Roll Call)

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Ohio GOP mucky-muck and now double-felon Tom Noe was convicted on embezzlement charges today relating to his corrupt management of the state's rare-coin investment fund.

The conviction follows on his earlier guilty plea for funneling tens of thousands of dollars in illicit funds to the Bush-Cheney '04 campaign. Noe faces a minimum sentence of ten years in prison.

You can see the menagerie of top Ohio Republicans connected to Noe here.

Update: Click here for a picture of Noe with President Bush.

Which nefarious election stunt from 2006 will live on in greater infamy, the NRCC's robo calls, or Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich and Lt. Gov. Michael Steele's recruitment of out-of-state homeless men to hand out misleading campaign literature in African-American neighborhoods?

The Washington Post makes the case for Ehrlich and Steele (who made an apparently unsuccessful bid for chairman of the Republican National Committee) in today's paper, even including a picture of the now-famous fake ballot that the men were handing out, which showed Ehrlich and Steele as Democrats. So check it out.

A highlight:

On the eve of this month's election, the mailers began landing in Prince George's mailboxes. One was a glossy red, black and green flier -- the colors that represent African American power -- sporting pictures of County Executive Jack B. Johnson, his predecessor, Wayne K. Curry and past NAACP president and former U.S. Senate candidate Kweisi Mfume.

Above the pictures of the three Democrats the flier read, "Ehrlich-Steele Democrats," and underneath it announced: "These are OUR Choices."

None of the three candidates had endorsed the governor, and only Curry had declared his support for Steele.

There were other fliers, too. A similar "Democratic" guide with Ehrlich's and Steele's photo on the front appeared in Baltimore. Another distributed in Baltimore County identified the Republican candidate for county executive as a Democrat.

An Ehrlich aide who agreed to discuss the strategy on the condition of anonymity said the purpose of the fliers was to peel away one or two percentage points in jurisdictions where the governor would be running behind. No one inside the campaign expected a strong reaction.

So House Speaker-to-be Nancy Pelosi has thrown her weight behind Rep. John Murtha (D-PA) to be the next House Majority Leader.

Few outside of Murtha's district -- or the corridors of Washington, D.C. -- knew much of Murtha until his outspoken opposition to the Iraq War earlier this year made him a cause celebre among liberals. What else has he been up to this year? In an excellent but little-noticed piece last month, the New York Times brought us up to speed:

In the last year, Democratic and Republican floor watchers say, Mr. Murtha has helped Republicans round up enough Democratic votes to narrowly block a host of Democratic proposals: to investigate federal contracting fraud in Iraq, to reform lobbying laws, to increase financing for flood control, to add $150 million for veterans' health care and job training, and to exempt middle-class families from the alternative minimum tax.

As Murtha put it, "deal making is what Congress is all about." Yessir -- blocking fraud investigations, stonewalling lobbying reform. That's what Congress is all about, isn't it?

The Los Angeles Times does their muckraking duty this morning, taking a look at the new Democratic leadership's penchant for earmarking. And what did they come up with?

Soon-to-be Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) secured millions to build a bridge near to land that he owns, likely increasing its value.

Last year, Reid earmarked $18 million in federal funds for the bridge linking Nevada and Arizona by traversing the Colorado River, just a few miles from Reid's 160-acre undeveloped plot on the Arizona side of the border. According to the Times, Reid "valued the Arizona land at $500,000 to $1 million in his most recent disclosure, which reported total assets of at least $2.2 million."

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Democrats Aim to Save Inquiry on Work in Iraq "Congressional Democrats say they will press new legislation next week to restore the power of a federal agency in charge of ferreting out waste and corruption in Iraq and greatly increase its investigative reach.

"The bills, the first of what are likely to be dozens of Democratic efforts to resurrect investigations of war profiteering and financial fraud in government contracting, could be introduced as early as Monday morning.

"The move would nullify a Republican-backed provision, slipped into a huge military authorization bill, that set a termination date for the agency, the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. The agency’s findings have consistently undermined Bush administration claims of widespread success in the reconstruction of Iraq." (NY Times)

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As we did our best to document, the National Republican Congressional Committee was responsible for repetitive, often harrassing robo calls in more than two dozen districts across the country in the runup to the election.

In at least seven of those districts, the Democrat failed to unseat the incumbent by only a couple thousand votes. The NRCC's calls may have been the difference in those races.

Consider, for example, Florida's 13th District, where Christine Jennings is currently locked in a recount battle. The final tally shows her down 386 votes. In the last three weeks of the election, the NRCC spent $58,326.78 on robo calls against Jennings, according to FEC reports. At five to fifteen cents a call, the NRCC bought itself between 388,000 and 1.17 million calls in the district. Approximately 250,000 people voted in the 13th on Tuesday.

Voters there report being inundated with calls -- so much so that some decided not to vote for Jennings. From The Herald Tribune:

"We're just glad it's all over," said Betty Beatty...

"They bugged us with their phone calls something terrible," said Betty, who voted for Buchanan because "with all her calls, Jennings, Jennings, Jennings, I wouldn't have voted for that woman if she were the only one running."

The NRCC's calls, you'll remember, began by saying something like "Hi, I'm calling with information about [the Democratic candidate]," then continued to give negative information about the candidate. They did not identify the true source of the calls until the very end, when they informed the listener (if he/she bothered to stay on the line until the end of the call), that the NRCC had paid for it. Voters reported being called again and again. A number of Democratic campaigns reported receiving complaints from voters who thought that the calls were coming from the Democrat, because of the calls' lead-in. We catalogued a number of the calls here.

Democrats have asked the FEC, FCC and Justice Department to probe the calls. DCCC spokesman Bill Burton told me that the Dems are still "committed to pursuing the issue of these calls" and are "discussing the next steps.... We are absolutely not letting this drop."

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