New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez appears to be solidifying his lead over businessman and Republican nominee Bob Hugin, according to a new Monmouth University poll that found the Democratic incumbent leading Hugin by 9 points in a standard midterm voter model.

Nearly half, 49 percent, of the 527 likely New Jersey voters surveyed for the poll released Thursday favored Menendez, while Hugin captured just 40 percent support.

The incumbent’s lead expanded to 12 points, 51 to 39 percent, in a statistical model that factored in low turnout and 11 points in a model taking into account a possible surge in turnout in more Democratic areas of the state.

Menendez’s lead is still narrower than some pollsters might expect for a New Jersey Senate race, but it should be enough to lift him to a third term.

“Given the national political climate and the big registration advantage enjoyed by Democrats, you might expect an incumbent senator from New Jersey to be up by 20 points,” Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, said in a statement.

“Hugin was successful in making this one competitive by hammering away at Menendez’s ethical baggage,” Murray said. “But the incumbent has been able to fight back to get the margin into a range that is closer to the norm for New Jersey.”

The Senate Ethics Committee issued a scathing rebuke to Menendez in April for accepting gifts from longtime friend and Florida ophthalmologist Salomon Melgen in exchange for political favors.

The Justice Department filed to dismiss charges against Menendez last winter after an 11-week trial ended in a hung jury in the fall.

Melgen was convicted for defrauding Medicare to the tune of millions of dollars.

Hugin has sought to make Menendez’s ethical challenges and ties to Melgen a central part of his campaign pitch.

The Democrat-aligned Senate Majority PAC this week announced that it dropped a $3 million TV ad buy to boost Menendez after some polling in September showed his lead over Hugin dwindling.

One poll had Hugin within 2 points and another had him within 6 midway through September.

But Menendez appears to have rebounded.

 “I bet the Democrat’s Senate Majority PAC wishes it could take back the $3 million being spent in New Jersey right now,” Murray said.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the New Jersey Senate race Likely Democratic.

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A new internal poll shows California Rep. Mimi Walters with a 50 percent share of the vote, leading Democratic challenger Katie Porter by 4 points. 

The incumbent’s 50-46 lead is within the poll’s +/-4.9% margin of error.

Porter, a University of California, Irvine professor, hopes to unseat Walters, who is seeking her third term in the 45th District. Walters’ is one of seven districts won by Hillary Clinton in 2016 currently being represented by Republican legislators. Clinton won the district by 5 points.

The poll ran from October 14 through October 17, just as Porter launched a new television ad hitting Walters for her vote in favor of last year’s GOP tax bill.

“The Walters-Trump tax plan gives away trillions to big corporations and Washington special interests, adds trillions more to the national debt, and threatens deep cuts to Medicare and Social Security,” the narrator says in the 30-second spot. “And Walters and Trump raised taxes on Orange County families to pay for it.”

Walters’ campaign consultant Dave Gilliard called the congresswoman a “tax-fighter and government reformer” in a statement accompanying the poll.

Public Opinion Strategies conducted the poll, surveying 400 likely voters by phone evenly split between cell phones and landlines.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race for the 45th District a Toss-up

What’s in a name? Some of Roll Call's favorite lawmaker nicknames, past and present:

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The Environmental Protection Agency released a plan for eliminating regulations next year that would likely dwarf its current rule-cutting pace.

The agency expects to finalize approximately 30 deregulatory actions and fewer than 10 regulatory actions in fiscal 2019, according to the Trump administration’s Unified Agenda, released Tuesday.

Such administrative speed would roughly triple the EPA’s pace from the prior year. In fiscal 2018, the agency finalized 10 deregulatory actions and three regulatory actions, resulting in an estimated $1.2 billion in cost savings, according to the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.

While the administration has argued that paring back regulations will reduce costs, many of the rollbacks have been soundly criticized by environmental groups for weakening public health protections and exacerbating climate change.

Under an April 2017 Office of Management and Budget directive, an action is considered “deregulatory” if its generates compliance savings for regulated industries, while “regulatory” actions generate compliance costs for the industries.

A potential “deregulatory” action heralded by OIRA is a proposed rule that the EPA and the Transportation Department issued in August that would freeze fuel economy and tailpipe emissions standards finalized under the Obama administration at 2020 levels through 2026, instead of enacting more stringent requirements. It would also revoke a waiver that allows California, along with 12 other states and the District of Columbia, to set tougher standards than federal levels.

In its review, the OIRA called the proposed rollback a “substantial” cost-cutter, citing administration estimates that it may save automakers $120 billion to $340 billion.

Also in the agenda, the administration projected that the EPA will finalize in March 2019 a proposal that would withdraw the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which required states to draft plans to cut greenhouse gas emissions from existing coal-powered electricity sources and other generation sources.

[Failures of Congress Keep Nuclear Waste Scattered Across the US]

Another possible rule to be finalized in 2019 is a revision of an Obama administration rule defining “Waters of the United States,” which, in an effort to clarify water protections, modified how the federal government determines which waterways are in its jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act.

The rule has been a point of consternation from congressional Republicans who consider it a government overreach. It has also become an issue in ongoing funding arguments. A GOP policy rider that would allow the EPA to withdraw the rule without statutory reviews has been a sticking point in recent Interior-Environment funding discussions due to opposition by Democrats.

Yet action on rescinding and replacing the WOTUS rule has been slower than anticipated. Then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told a Senate panel in May that he expected a proposed withdrawal in the “third quarter” of 2018 and a replacement by year’s end.

Currently, the administration plans to replace the rule in two steps: a final replacement rule would be issued by March 2019, and a rule with its own definition of “Waters of the United States” would come by the following September.

In a move likely to assuage concerns among corn-state lawmakers about whether the U.S. will meet its statutory renewable fuel obligations, the agency said in the agenda that it will finalize by May 2019 a proposal to allow gasoline blended with up to 15 percent ethanol, known as E15, to be sold year-round. Sales of the 15 percent blend are currently banned in the summer months because of an EPA finding that it increases smog.

Trump on Climate Change: ‘Something’s Happening,’ But It Could Reverse

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Sen. Sherrod Brown summarily dismissed allegations of sexual assault levied against him by his opponent in the upcoming midterms, Rep. Jim Renacci, labeling the Ohio Republican’s claims “desperate.”

“Congressman Renacci’s failed and desperate campaign gets worse every day,” Brown’s campaign said in a statement, multiple outlets reported Wednesday.

Brown’s lead over Renacci in the polls has never dropped below 13 points since the two won their respective primaries in May.

President Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton by 8 points in the quadrennial swing state in 2016. 

Still, Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race for Ohio's Senate seat Likely Democratic as Democrat Brown seeks a third term.

On Wednesday, Renacci told the Cincinnati Enquirer’s editorial board that “multiple women” contacted him saying they were assaulted by Brown between the end of his first marriage in 1987 and the beginning of his current one in 2004.

“I’ve had multiple women contact me and say, ‘I was assaulted by Sherrod Brown,’” Renacci told the editorial board, which said the GOP Senate candidate did not provide any proof or specifics supporting his claim.

“It’s more than just one instance,” Renacci said. “That makes it even worse.”

It’s not the first time Renacci has tried to weaponize alleged mistreatment of women by Brown, a tactic conservatives have panned in other political arenas — most recently, the Senate confirmation process for new Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

Renacci has repeatedly criticized Brown for a domestic abuse allegation and restraining order filed by Brown’s first wife against him during heated divorce proceedings in 1986.

Brown’s ex-wife, Larke Recchie, has taken Renacci to task for trying “to score cheap political points,” as Recchie and Brown have for years been on good terms.

“I was proud to support Sherrod in 2006 and 2012, just as I am this time around,” Recchie said in a statement in September. “Anyone who suggests he is not an honorable man is just wrong. He’s a great father to our daughters Emily and Liz and he’s a wonderful grandfather to our grandchildren.”

Renacci did not back down from his campaign’s decision to use the issue against Brown, which he has repeated at the candidates’ debates.

“The documentation shows something totally different,” Renacci said of Recchie’s statement. “She has multiple affidavits of fear, abuse, fear for her children. God bless her for forgiving him.”

The 2018 midterm elections are 19 days away, on Tuesday, Oct. 6.

Watch: Trump Heads West to Campaign — And a Lot of Senators Do Too

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Congressional staffers naively joined a public Wi-Fi network as they settled in for an hour-long cybersecurity training. Little did they know that any websites they browsed on their phones were about to flash on a giant screen.

There was nothing too embarrassing. At least one person was killing time on ESPN.com.

But the point inside the 18-wheeler truck was clear: If experts can trick staffers just steps from the Capitol, hackers can too.

The truck folds out, Transformer-like, into a training room and data center run by computing company IBM. They call it the Cyber Tactical Operations Center, or C-TOC for short.

With less than three weeks to go until the midterm elections, IBM parked it on the National Mall to offer a crash course. If lawmakers have been thinking differently about security protocols ever since Russian operatives hacked the Democratic National Committee, so have their staffers — the people who answer emails, run social media accounts and otherwise handle business in the halls of Congress.

Roughly 40 such aides cycled through the truck Thursday. Etay Maor, IBM’s executive security adviser, showed them how easy it is for hackers to capture information from unwitting internet users.

Reaching digital first responders was part of the goal, said Caleb Barlow, IBM’s vice president of threat intelligence.

“If you look at most of the breaches over the last 10 years, I would argue that the response to the breach actually causes more damage than the breach did, because people don’t know how to make decisions during those crisis moments,” he said.

Congress came under scrutiny this summer as hackers targeted offices and campaigns even as training for staff remained incomplete.

While the House mandated information security training for all employees in early 2015, the Senate did not follow suit.

Enter the truck. “Part of the plan is to travel the world with this and use this as an opportunity to engage government,” Barlow said of IBM’s training center. “What we’re going to have to recognize if we’re really going to solve the problem with cybersecurity is we need to have very tight partnerships between government and the private sector.”

The next stop for the truck is Austin, Texas, and then Rochester, New York for the finals of a student cyber competition. After that it heads to Cambridge, Massachusetts and Atlanta, Georgia, before shipping off to Europe. Political conventions or sporting events may be in its future.

It may be a drop in the bucket, but Cris Thomas, a researcher who also goes by Space Rouge, told staffers Thursday that every bit counts. Learning how hackers work can help ward off threats to democracy, he said.

‘Winter is Coming,’ Tardy Speeches and Ye in the Oval: Congressional Hits and Misses

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For months President Donald Trump has been making a pitch to his base: a vote for the GOP is a vote for me. But while the president stumps for candidates in tight races from states he won in 2016, a number of House Republicans are neglecting to mention his name as the GOP fights to retain control of the chamber.

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In a candid interview with the Atlantic, Heidi Cruz discussed the ways her life has been shaped by the political pursuits of her husband, Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

Ted Cruz faces a re-election challenge from Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who despite record fundraising totals, has lost momentum in the polls. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Likely Republican.

In a striking portrait of what it means to be a political spouse, Cruz said she had to grapple with her place in the world as she made sacrifices for her husband’s advancement. Here are five takeaways from the interview:

1. Despite his wife’s struggle with depression, Ted Cruz never considered leaving Texas: Heidi Cruz coped with depression after she sacrificed her career and her childhood dream to work in Washington to move to Texas with her husband. She gave him her blessing to seek his first political office as Texas solicitor general in part because she didn’t think he’d get it, she told the magazine. She struggled with having lost some of her agency after she gave up her position working for Condoleezza Rice on the National Security Council and faced the difficult task of building a new reputation in the world of finance at Goldman Sachs.

Still, Ted told the magazine the couple never considered moving back to the Beltway.

Heidi Cruz’s low point came when concerned passersby reported a woman sitting on the side of the freeway with her head in her hands in 2003. 

At a religious retreat, she became resolute in a new sense of self when she came to view his political career as part of God’s purpose for her life.

“God’s gonna use you to do something beyond yourself. You just let God take you to Texas, you let him take you wherever,” a counselor told her.

Thirteen years later Cruz took leave from her career in finance to work on her husband’s political campaign.

Cruz found she was an asset to winning over wobbly donors, but still had moments when she lost her sense of purpose, like when her flight was rerouted “to have a meeting with a bunch of pastors at the hot-dog stand in the Des Moines, Iowa, airport.”

When the reporter asked Heidi what she wishes she had known, she replies,  “I would say to younger women: Be intentional about your decisions.”

2. Heidi only helps Ted’s campaign on the weekends: The Republican primary in 2016 was grueling for Heidi Cruz in a way few political spouses experience. In the space of two days, as polls showed Cruz and Donald Trump in a close race, an unverified tabloid story alleged Ted Cruz had cheated on her with five women, and Donald Trump shared a supporter’s tweet with his millions of followers insulting her looks , showing an unflattering photo of her alongside future first lady Melania Trump.

Now back at work in a “competitive” position at Goldman Sachs, Cruz has taken a step back from her husband’s reelection race against O’Rourke.

“I help out on the weekends where I can,” Cruz said.

3. On the unverified tabloid story alleging Ted Cruz had five affairs: “You do have a moment of doubt”: Heidi said she “literally laughed” when she first saw the National Enquirer story alleging Ted had slept with five women outside his marriage. But encountering the magazine firsthand during a trip to the grocery store had an emotional impact.

“And I called my mom and I was like, ‘This actually is out there. Like, this is really a thing. It hasn’t bothered me, but now I’m seeing this — do you think people read this? Do you think people believe this?’” Cruz said. “So you do have a moment of doubt.”

National Enquirer owner David Pecker is a staunch Trump supporter. 

4. It was Ted who insisted that Trump pull from a list of Federalist Society picks for the Supreme Court: According to Heidi, as Trump considered nominees to replace Justice Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court, it was Ted who persuaded the president to consider only deeply conservative judges who appeared on a list compiled by the Federalist Society. According to a June Reuters report, the only Republican senator who met with the president in the days following Justice Anthony Kennedy’s retirement was Charles Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

5. Despite the insults, Heidi voted for Trump: Recently, a super PAC released an ad needling Cruz for establishing a working relationship with the president despite the insults Trump lobbed at his wife. But Heidi told the magazine she doesn’t regret voting for Trump.

She described the couple’s deliberations in the days leading up to Cruz’s endorsement: “What I did talk to Ted about … was if we support him and he ends up not being a conservative — not appointing conservative justices, not doing tax reform —  are we part of a damaging decision in history?”

Ted “has kept his integrity intact,” Heidi said. 

Watch: Tuesday's Texas Senate Debate in 4 Minutes

 

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Sen. Lindsey Graham is very bullish on the chances of Republicans expanding their Senate majority on Election Day in three weeks.

“We’re off to the races. Everything is breaking our way,” the South Carolina senator said Tuesday night. 

Speaking at a meeting of the Heritage Foundation President’s Club in downtown Washington, Graham said Republicans of different stripes were united in the aftermath of new Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh’s confirmation process.

“Run up the numbers here. If we can hold Nevada, Arizona and Tennessee — and I think Tennessee is done — this lady running in Arizona is giving aid and comfort to the enemy, I think, [Democratic Rep. Kyrsten] Sinema is, and we’ve got a fighter pilot and I like her chances. Heller is awesome,” Graham said.

“You’ve got Missouri, Indiana and North Dakota where we’re breaking away. You’ve got Rick Scott doing a great job in Florida,” he added. “This could be really a big night for us.”

Asked what the room full of conservative activists should be doing to help get more of President Donald Trump’s judicial nominations confirmed, Graham said they should be sending even more money to GOP Senate campaigns.

He appeared particularly fired up about the monstrous fundraising haul of Rep. Beto O’Rourke, the Democrat who is challenging GOP Sen. Ted Cruz in Texas.

“Write a check. These people have got more money than they’ve got sense. $38 million for Robert Francis O’Rourke, who apparently was born in an Irish ghetto in Barcelona. This is upside down,” Graham said. “He’s the Hispanic guy running against Cruz. You can’t make this crap up.”

Graham was the warm-up act Tuesday night for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who received a similarly warm response from the conservative Heritage Foundation audience after the Kavanaugh confirmation.

And predictably, the Kentucky Republican was more reserved in his predictions about what might happen on Election Day. McConnell again told a story about the confidence he sensed from New York Sen. Charles E. Schumer, now the minority leader, ahead of the 2016 election.

That year’s Senate map looked much better on paper for the Democrats, while the 2018 one looks much better on paper for McConnell and the Republican Conference.

“It’s best not to fall in love with the map, but we do have a good map,” McConnell said.

As he has done during recent interviews with Roll Call and other news outlets, McConnell said he saw a real uptick in enthusiasm after the Kavanaugh confirmation fight, but he also reiterated the large number of tight races three weeks out.

“We have nip-and-tuck, could go either way races in Arizona, Nevada, Montana, North Dakota, Missouri, Indiana, Tennessee, West Virginia and Florida,” he said. “All of those could go either way.”

ICYMI: Midterm Races Tightening After Trump Defends Kavanaugh and Unleashes on Campaign Trail

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Rep. Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., a former professional mixed martial arts fighter, challenged lawyer Democratic lawyer Michael Avenatti to “meet him on the mat.”

Avenatti and Donald Trump Jr. have sparred on Twitter in recent weeks over special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation and Avenatti’s rumored presidential ambitions. The rivalry took a surreal turn last week, when Avenatti challenged Trump Jr. to a “three-round mixed martial arts fight” with the proceeds going to charity. 

Avenatti has positioned himself as an antagonist of the Trump administration since taking up the case of Stormy Daniels, a porn actress who seeks to void a nondisclosure agreement signed with the president days before the 2016 election. 

The former cage fighter intervened Tuesday, offering to take on Avenatti himself.

It’s ridiculous that @MichaelAvenatti would even challenge @DonaldJTrumpJr to a fight. But if he’s looking for a publicity stunt, I‘d be more than happy to meet him on the mat. https://t.co/SSmIN6QOHR

 

Mullin’s background as a professional fighter has informed his politics. He’s sponsored legislation that would amend the Muhammad Ali Boxing Reform Act to include the UFC and improve workers protections for fighters. 

Mullin, a citizen of the Cherokee Nation, also made headlines on Tuesday in an appearance on Fox News when he called for Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., a possible challenger to Trump in 2020, to apologize for publicizing the results of a genetic test indicating a Native American ancestor. 

“The heritage runs deep in my family,” Mullin said. “For her they’re just stories.”

Some Native American leaders were troubled by Warren’s use of a DNA test to claim Native heritage. The Cherokee Nation said the test was “inappropriate” and hurts the tribe’s interests in a statement Monday night.

Mullin will win an uncontested race in November for a fourth term representing the 2nd District, according to Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales

Watch: Elizabeth Warren Reveals Genetic Test Results and Talks Heritage With Her Family

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President Donald Trump on Tuesday signaled he doesn’t believe Saudi rulers were involved in the suspected murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi after a telephone conversation with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

“Just spoke with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia who totally denied any knowledge of what took place in their Turkish Consulate,” Trump tweeted. “He was with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo … during the call, and told me that he has already started, and will rapidly expand, a full and complete investigation into this matter. Answers will be forthcoming shortly.”

...during the call, and told me that he has already started, and will rapidly expand, a full and complete investigation into this matter. Answers will be forthcoming shortly.

Trump has also said it was possible Khashoggi was murdered by “rogue killers” while inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul. He was last seen entering the building on Oct. 2.

The president’s response to reports of Khashoggi’s apparent demise has been markedly different from members of his own party.

Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday on “Fox & Friends” that he plans to “sanction the hell out of Saudi Arabia.” The South Carolina Republican indicated he was opposed to doing business with Saudi Arabia until the crown prince was ousted.

“Nothing happens in Saudi Arabia without MBS knowing it,” Graham said of the crown prince, who is widely known by his initials. “I can never do business with Saudi Arabia again until we get this behind us.”

Trump spoke on the phone Monday with Saudi King Salman, who also denied involvement in Khashoggi’s disappearance, before dispatching Pompeo to help investigate the matter.

Watch: Trump Suggests ‘Rogue Killers’ Could Be Responsible for Saudi Journalist's Death

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A Democratically-aligned super PAC has pulled its television advertising funding from the competitive district encompassing Omaha, Nebraska, a spokesman confirmed Tuesday.

The money the House Majority PAC had committed to support Democratic candidate Kara Eastman in Nebraska’s 2nd District will now go to support Cindy Axne in Iowa’s 3rd, the spokesman said. Election forecasters have seen that race as a slightly better pick-up opportunity for Democrats. 

Eastman and her Republican opponent Don Bacon released competing polls in recent weeks that each showed Bacon, a retired Air Force brigadier general and first-term House member, with a single-digit lead.

Eastman’s poll, released October 4, found she had 45 percent of the vote compared to 49 percent for Bacon. Bacon’s four-point lead was within the poll’s margin of error.

Bacon’s poll, released Oct. 9, had him leading 49 percent to 40 percent. 

Republicans have held the 2nd District, which encompasses Omaha and contains some of Nebraska’s few pockets of Democratic strength for the better part of the last quarter century — barring two years Democrat Brad Ashford was in office from 2014 to 2016. President Trump carried the district by 3 points in 2016.

Democrats have pegged the district as their best pick-up opportunity in Nebraska. 

Eastman, the founder of a public health non-profit, is part of the Democratic Congressional Committee’s Red to Blue Program, which funnels support to candidates it considers capable of flipping Republican seats. 

Nathan Gonzales with Inside Elections rates the race Lean Republican. Inside Elections rates Axne’s race in Iowa against Rep. David Young a Toss-up.

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The political scandal surrounding Virginia Rep. Scott Taylor’s campaign is still simmering as a state special prosecutor investigates allegations that four of Taylor’s campaign staffers and advisers forged dozens — possibly hundreds — of constituent signatures to help a third-party candidate onto the ballot this November.

The 2nd District Republican continued to pay the four staffers accused of committing the forgeries, a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a $2,500 fine, his third-quarter filing with the Federal Elections Commission shows.

Taylor also shelled out more than $10,000 in legal fees from his campaign coffers to at least four different law firms in August and September.

Taylor had never paid any of the four law firms prior to the third filing quarter of 2018. The campaign made its first four disbursements toward those apparent legal costs less than a week after Commonwealth of Virginia assigned Roanoke attorney Don Caldwell to investigate the matter as a special prosecutor.

Scott Weldon, a spokesman for Taylor, indicated that the staffers involved in the petition fraud scandal no longer work for the congressman's campaign — even though they were each cut paychecks multiple times after reports of their alleged malfeasance surfaced in early August.

"While we very much look forward to full transparency and truth coming out on this issue, regrettably, our statement with every piece and angle of this story remains the same: we cannot comment due to the ongoing investigation into former campaign staff," Weldon said in a statement.

Taylor, who has claimed he did not know his staffers were forging signatures on petition sheets for independent Shaun Brown, his 2016 Democratic opponent, said shortly after WHRO radio broke the story in early August that he would purge his campaign of any bad actors.

“You have my word that if anyone in my campaign did anything that was wrong, that was illegal, that was inappropriate or something like that, I would fire them in a second,” Taylor said in a Facebook Live broadcast to his supporters on Aug. 6.

Taylor said he would not spare even his “closest advisers, who I wouldn’t want to fire, but I would.” 

That did not appear to be the case based on his FEC filing.

As recently as Sept. 12, more than a month after Caldwell was assigned to investigate the forgeries, Taylor’s campaign doled out “payroll” and “campaign consulting” disbursements to Lauren Creekmore, Roberta Marciano, Daniel Bohner, and Heather Guillot.

A Richmond Circuit Court judge ruled in September to toss out every petition sheet submitted by Creekmore, Marciano, Bohner, and Guillot on Brown’s behalf after he found them “rife with errors, inconsistencies, and forgeries.”

In September, the Democratic Party of Virginia successfully sued the state elections board to remove Brown’s name from the ballot. The DPVA accused Taylor of hatching the forgery scheme to split the Democratic party vote between Brown, the party’s 2016 candidate, and Elaine Luria, its nominee in the upcoming midterm election.

Taylor denied the accusation that he was trying to use Brown to siphon votes away from Luria, saying he was just trying to help a candidate that the DPVA had “disenfranchised.” He did not tell his staff to commit any forgeries, he said, and, if they did, he was not aware.

The Virginia Democrats aren’t buying it and criticized Taylor for retaining staffers who are under investigation.

“The very little that Scott Taylor has told us about this forgery scheme appears to be a lie,” DPVA communications director Jake Rubenstein said in a statement Tuesday.

“Instead of holding his staff accountable and coming clean, he appears to be protecting and rewarding them,” Rubenstein said.

Taylor paid the four staffers accused of submitting the fraudulent signatures a total of $43,559.54 in the third quarter over a series of six payments each, roughly corresponding with a bimonthly paycheck plan, per the congressman’s FEC filing.

Guillot earned $13,500 for campaign consulting; Creekmore and Marciano earned roughly $7,500 each; and Bohner earned $9,000 from consulting while a limited liability corporation associated with his name, Validus, earned $6,000 in legal fees.

In mid-September, internal poll numbers from Luria’s campaign showed Taylor slipping in his bid for a second term.

Luria led the GOP incumbent by 8 points, 51 percent to 43 percent, in the poll conducted by Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, a lead within the margin of error.

But Taylor appears to have surged back ahead, according to a new poll of likely voters conducted by Christopher Newport University’s Wason Center for Public Policy from Oct. 3 through Oct. 12.

Taylor led Luria, 50 percent to 43 percent, in the survey of 798 likely voters in Virginia’s 2nd District.

President Donald Trump carried the district over Hillary Clinton by 3 points in 2016 while Taylor cruised to a 23-point victory over Brown.

Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates the race Tilts Republican.

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