Allegra Kirkland

Allegra Kirkland is a New York-based reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked on The Nation’s web team and as the associate managing editor for AlterNet. Follow her on Twitter @allegrakirkland.

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With under three weeks to go until the midterm elections, the GOP nominee trying to unseat Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) is hitting below the belt.

A new attack ad out this week from former pharmaceutical executive Bob Hugin revives unproved allegations that Menendez would regularly hire underage prostitutes during vacations in the Dominican Republic.

The ad misleadingly presents the allegations against Menendez as facts corroborated by federal law enforcement, rather than unsubstantiated claims originally pushed by the Daily Caller in a series of 2012 and 2013 articles.

The phony scandal helped obscure other, more credible allegations against Menendez, who was accused of accepting gifts and trips from his friend Salomon Melgen. A federal corruption trial against the two men ended last year in a mistrial.

Hugin’s ad claims as fact that “underage girls” accused Menendez of hiring them for sex, and that “President Obama’s Justice Department” sat on “evidence” that the New Jersey Democrat had done so.

These allegations take great liberties with information included in the affidavit provided by an FBI special agent tasked with attempting to corroborate the claims about Menendez.

Two women who first spoke to the Daily Caller in 2012 about their alleged liaisons with Menendez later recanted, saying they were paid to fabricate the stories, as the Washington Post reported. They claimed to be adult escorts.

This ad represents just a fraction of the $10 million Hugin has shelled out on negative ads as the race winds down, according to the New York Times. The GOP nominee is hoping to capitalize on Menendez’s low approval ratings in New Jersey, where his corruption scandals have cost him support.

TPM reported this week that the Senate Majority PAC is tossing Menendez a $3 million liferaft to spend on advertising to try to buoy him ahead of Election Day.

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Chaos erupted outside a local Republican club on Manhattan’s Upper East Side last Friday night.

After a speech by Gavin McInnes—founder of the Proud Boys, an openly racist, Islamophobic, “western chauvinist” group known for engaging in violent street fights—members of his far-right group fanned out into the posh residential neighborhood, brawling with a waiting crowd of anti-fascist protesters.

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Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp (R) is going on the offensive against critics of his office’s policy that blocked 53,000 Georgians—most of them black—from registering to vote.

Calls for him to resign over the policy are “ridiculous,” Kemp, who is locked in a close race for governor, said Friday.

Speaking to the Forsyth County News, the GOP nominee for governor called claims of mass voter suppression “fake news” and a “manufactured story from the Democrats.”

Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams argued last week that Kemp had to step down so that Georgians can “have confidence that their Secretary of State competently and impartially oversee this election.”

Abrams’ call was taken up by protesters and several state civil rights groups. The Georgia NAACP, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Groups, and other organizations filed a lawsuit against Kemp on Thursday, arguing that his office discriminated against minority residents.

Under the “exact match” policy, Georgia is allowed to delay or block voter registrations if information on the registration form does not align exactly with existing state records.

An Associated Press review of state records found that some 70 percent of the 53,000 people affected by the policy are black.

Kemp has insisted that affected voters can still cast ballots in person on Election Day, and attacked “outside agitators”—a term used by segregationists in the South—for stirring up controversy about his policy.

The Republican nominee is also trying to shift attention back across the aisle. On Friday, he claimed for the first time that the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor should withdraw from the race over allegations made in an April complaint against her family’s business.

Kemp said that the claims of racial discrimination at the Jack Cooper trucking firm are “unacceptable and disqualifying” for Sarah Riggs Amico, according to the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

“It’s obvious the Georgia GOP wants to distract voters from this week’s national news headlines,” the Amico campaign said in a statement calling the lawsuit’s claims “completely without merit.”

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With less than a month to go before the midterms, all has been pretty quiet on the Robert Mueller front. The special counsel appears to be taking pains to stick to the Justice Department policy of not taking any public investigative steps that could sway an election. But a few new details have simmered to the surface.

The biggest: after months of negotiations, President Trump’s lawyers are reportedly preparing answers to written questions provided by Mueller’s team. Those inquiries are focused on his campaign’s possible collusion with and ties to the Russian government — not obstruction of justice, according to CNN.

Mueller has also apparently developed an “expanding” and “intense interest” in the late GOP activist Peter W. Smith’s efforts to hunt down emails he believed were stolen from Hillary Clinton’s private server. Federal prosecutors have interviewed several associates of Smith, who committed suicide last year. They’ve also learned that he raised over $100,000 for his email-hunting quest, according to a string of articles in the Wall Street Journal.

One of those reports revealed that Smith first met former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn back in 2015. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Smith claimed to have help from Flynn’s son and consulting firm in his efforts to find the missing emails.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is out of the GOP’s crosshairs for the moment. He shared a cozy Air Force 1 ride with Trump this week, and the President assured reporters that the pair had “a good relationship.”

More surprising is the retreat by House Republicans who were threatening Rosenstein’s impeachment just a few weeks ago over disparaging remarks he reportedly made about Trump. After calling on him to come testify before Congress ASAP, they’ve since postponed their meeting indefinitely.

Former Trump aide Rick Gates is reportedly continuing to cooperate with the Mueller probe. This week, The New York Times reported that Gates was contacted by an Israeli intelligence group during the campaign with an offer to use fake social media accounts to gather information and sway voters.

Gates was also sued by two of his former lawyers for allegedly stiffing them on some $360,000 in bills he accrued before switching representation.

Californian Richard Pinedo was sentenced to one-year imprisonment — six months in prison and six months in home confinement — on identify fraud charges brought by Mueller’s team. Pinedo, who cooperated with the investigation, sold bank account numbers connected to real people that he purchased on the black market; unbeknownst to Pinedo, some of those customers were the Russian trolls allegedly involved in 2016 election interference.

U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis wants to move forward with sentencing Paul Manafort for the counts he was convicted of in Virginia this summer, despite a plea agreement reached between Manafort and the special counsel postponed such moves based on Manafort’s cooperation.

In brighter news, Stormy Daniels and Michael Cohen exchanged a friendly greeting at LaGuardia Airport. Cohen, Daniels said, looked “happy and healthy.”

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A number of states currently under full GOP control—including Wisconsin, South Dakota, Kansas, Michigan and Ohio—allow the governor veto power over district maps drawn by the state legislature. With less than four weeks to go before Election Day, Democrats are either in the lead or in close races to retake the governor’s mansion in those states.

Redistricting experts say that winning just this one office represents Democrats’ best opportunity to have a voice in the once-a-decade redistricting process that next rolls around in 2021—and block the GOP from locking in majorities for another 10 years.

“The Republican gerrymander at the state legislative level is even more solid than the gerrymander of the U.S. House,” David Daley of FairVote, an electoral reform group, told TPM. “So if Democrats want to have a seat at the table in 2020 redistricting, the best way in many otherwise competitive states that are friendly to Democrats requires winning the governor’s mansion.”

“Governors are key in this process, and can be a powerful check and balance on efforts to gerrymander,” the Brennan Center’s Michael Li concurred.

Good government and redistricting reform groups like former Attorney General Eric Holder’s outfit, the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), are well aware of these stakes. In laying out their targets for 2018, the NDRC said its goal was to break trifecta control—GOP rule of both houses of state legislatures and the governorship—to make sure “Democrats have a seat at the table.”

“What we know about redistricting is that the most extreme maps always emerge when one party has total control of the process,” Daley said.

To illustrate just how important governors can be to these battles, Li brought up the examples of Wisconsin and Minnesota. The 2010 Republican wave election gave the GOP total control in the Badger State, while in Minnesota, Republicans won both houses of the legislature, losing the governorship, by a hair, to Democrat Mark Dayton. When the redistricting process came around in 2011, following the 2010 Census, the two states ended up with starkly different outcomes.

In Wisconsin, Li said, the GOP “went to town and drew one of the most aggressive gerrymanders that the country’s ever seen in the state assembly.” Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed off on the maps, which were subsequently challenged in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

In Minnesota, Dayton “was able to veto a very bad Republican gerrymander, which kicked the process to the courts. And the courts drew a map which has been much more responsive to electoral shifts.”

Control of Minnesota’s House has flipped from Democrats in 2012 to Republicans in 2014 and could flip back to Democrats in 2018.

Wisconsin, meanwhile, has been safely Republican for the past decade. In 2012, Democratic candidates for the state assembly earned over 174,000 more votes than their Republican counterparts, but Republicans took 60 of the 99 seats.

“2016 proved so uncompetitive that half—fully 49 percent of those seats—went uncontested by either major party,” Daley noted.

The Midwest has been an epicenter of Republican control post-2010, but Democrats are currently leading in the governor’s races in Illinois, Michigan and Minnesota, as Governing magazine recently reported. Walker is also in trouble in Wisconsin, while Democrats are making a strong showing in other states like Kansas, Iowa, Ohio, and South Dakota where the governor has either veto control over or a key role in the redistricting process.

Michigan’s case is distinct. Voters Not Politicians, a citizens group, succeeded in getting a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that, if it passes, will take control of the map-drawing process away from state lawmakers.

The huge enthusiasm for that effort, which gained over 400,000 signatures, is a testament to how enduring the effects of Michigan’s 2010 gerrymander have been. Democrats won more total votes in state House races in 2012, 2014 and 2016, but failed to take back control.

As redistricting reform advocates are quick to point out, gerrymandering is not exclusively a Republican problem. In Maryland, where redistricting is actually run out of the governor’s office, then-Gov. Martin O’Malley worked with the Democratic legislature to secure a 7-1 Democratic congressional gerrymander in 2010.

At a Baltimore event in September, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous said he would push the balance to 8-0 if he’s elected.

Dan Vicuña, national redistricting director at Common Cause, said these sorts of winner-take-all-approaches represent a “very short-sighted” view of how the process should work. Where they have full control, Democrats and Republicans are prone to making the kind of power grab they couldn’t stomach if control changed hands.

“It’s in the best interest of both parties to really hedge their bets and come up with some sort of real reform effort,” Vicuña told TPM. “Be that independent commissions or something with a partisan balance that prevents one party from steamrolling the other.”

Assuming that those efforts don’t come to pass and the process remains fiercely political, a wave of Democratic governorships in red states could result in “deadlock” over maps, according to Vicuña. As in Minnesota, that could mean the process gets kicked to the courts, which Vicuña said have historically “hewed somewhat closely to the lines that the state legislatures have drawn.”

But after a decade of gerrymandering games and drawn-out legal battles, the courts have started turning to special masters who’ve ignored the legislatures’ suggestions entirely.

“I think the courts will be far less likely to be deferential to the districts that legislators are proposing and more likely to start from scratch,” Vicuña said.

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Democratic gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum on Thursday demanded that Florida TV stations stop broadcasting a “maliciously false” attack ad put out by the state Republican Party, warning that further broadcast of the ad would be intentionally defamatory.

In a cease-and-desist letter, lawyers for the Gillum campaign claims the ad was approved by his GOP opponent Rep. Ron DeSantis and makes “demonstrably false” claims. The 30-second spot focuses on an ongoing FBI public corruption investigation into the city government in Tallahassee, where Gillum serves as mayor.

“Andrew Gillum is running for Governor and also from the FBI,” the ad, which is cut through with images of police tape, states. It ends with a line saying Gillum is “not just radical, but corrupt.”

Gillum’s attorney writes that the candidate is neither the subject of the probe nor received any anonymous payments from anyone, as suggested.

“The Advertisement constitutes libel and slander of the worst sort,” the letter reads. “This letter shall serve as notice that any further publication or rebroadcast of the Advertisement by you will be intentional and made with actual knowledge of the maliciously false and defamatory statements contained therein.”

The FBI probe focuses on whether developers were able to influence Tallahassee development projects. Investigators have requested information from Adam Corey, a lobbyist and Gillum friend, but Gillum has not been named in any subpoenas.

The Tallahassee mayor has posted related records online, and pledged to work with the FBI.

The probe has been a major talking point for Florida Republicans in the close gubernatorial race.

Read the full letter below.

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The chaotic Kansas gubernatorial primaries saw a GOP race that came down to just dozens of votes and a push to boot the independent nominee from the ballot. When the dust finally settled in late August, three major candidates had emerged for November’s five-person contest: Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Democratic state Sen. Laura Kelly, and Independent Greg Orman.

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