In it, but not of it. TPM DC

The presidential election takes the prize for the strangest thing happening on the ballot this cycle, but below the radar are don't-miss House races across the country.

There's a Republican congressman running in a competitive race without a campaign manager, former GOP Oversight Chairman Darrell Issa is sending out mailers touting legislation he worked on with President Barack Obama and Republican turned independent-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist is actually running in a newly drawn district against a Republican congressman who literally brought live mosquitos to the House floor this year to highlight Zika.

Flipping the House is a tall, tall order for Democrats this cycle, even as the party has tried to capitalize on Trump's propensity for gaffes and bombastic statements.

But these down ballot races are worth watching.

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Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) told supporters over the weekend that if Hillary Clinton is elected president he is going to work overtime to ensure she will not be able to move forward with a Supreme Court justice, according to audio obtained by CNN.

"If Hillary Clinton becomes president, I am going to do everything I can do to make sure four years from now, we still got an opening on the Supreme Court," Burr said, according to CNN.

Burr also told supporters in the recording that President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland didn't have a chance of being confirmed in the lame duck session of Congress.

"My answer to you would be it isn't going to happen -- period," Burr said, according to CNN.

Burr's comments about a permanent blockade of the Supreme Court echo that of other lawmakers including Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), who argued last week that the court didn't need a ninth justice. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) also said that he was going to do everything he could to stop Clinton from getting a Supreme Court justice confirmed if she were elected.

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In a stunning political move, conservatives are already strategizing on how to block any future Supreme Court nominee from moving forward during Hillary Clinton's presidency before the election even happens.

"I don't think there is precedent for it. It really does reveal just how politically charged and polarized our judicial politics have become," said Charles Gardner Geyh, a professor of law at Indiana University who advised then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE) during the 1991 confirmation hearing of Justice Clarence Thomas. "We are at risk of losing legitimacy as a nation in terms of being able to govern effectively."

A number of Republican lawmakers and scholars have already begun openly rationalizing why Clinton shouldn't be allowed to appoint Supreme Court justices. (These are many of the same people who argued President Obama shouldn't get a nominee in the last year of his term because it should be up to the person who wins the November election.)

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) told reporters that the Senate would have a "debate" about whether to accept Clinton's nominees and that there was nothing wrong with having just eight justices.

“You know, I think there will be plenty of time for debate on that issue,” Cruz told the Washington Post, when he was asked if the Senate would move forward with Clinton's nominees. “There is certainly long historical precedent for a Supreme Court with fewer justices. I would note, just recently, that Justice Breyer observed that the vacancy is not impacting the ability of the court to do its job. That’s a debate that we are going to have.”

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Anti-government extremists may be re-invigorated after an Oregon jury Thursday acquitted Ammon and Ryan Bundy –leaders in the Malheur Wildlife Refuge standoff– of federal conspiracy and weapons charges.

In the wake of the federal government's stunning defeat, experts fear that the acquittal may inspire other anti-government extremists to plot their own takeovers and more aggressively promote their causes.

"They are already jubilant about this. They feel they have been vindicated," said Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Center on Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League who monitors anti-government extremist social media. "This has really raised the chance that we could have some sort of sequel to the Oregon standoff."

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Ever since Indiana State Police raided a voter registration office in Indiana and effectively shut down a voter registration drive aimed at getting African-American voters to the polls, there have been a lot of unanswered questions.

Among the biggest: What actually initiated the state police investigation? What was the motivation? What happens to the thousands of legitimate registration forms submitted through the voter registration drive under investigation?

Here's what we know.

On Oct. 4, the Indiana State Police executed a search warrant and raided the Indiana Voter Registration Project's office. They took phones, paperwork and computers as evidence in their investigation into alleged voter fraud.

The raid and subsequent statements about the case by the state police have received a lot of media coverage in Indiana, and nationally. "State Police raid Indy office in growing voter fraud case" read the headline in the state's largest newspaper, the Indianapolis Star. Another one from the Star: "Top Indiana election official alleges more voter fraud." The case has also been followed by the Associated Press, The Los Angeles Times and The New Republic.

Exactly what sparked that initial raid, however, is still murky. The LA Times reported the investigation had been "prompted by a tip" and that a Hendricks County Clerk had reported 10 suspicious voter registrations that had "signatures on some forms" that "did not match images in a county database."

The New Republic reported at the end of September that Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson had sent a message to state election officials that “unfortunately, it has recently come to my attention that nefarious actors are operating here in Indiana."

Lawson also cited 10 voter registration forms she believed were fraudulently filled out and turned in by the Indiana Voter Registration Project, a group that focused on African-American voter registration and was under the umbrella of the D.C.-based group Patriot Majority. But, it was is unclear if she was referring to the same 10 that the Hendricks County clerk was referring to.

To be clear, under Indiana law, canvassers have to turn in all forms – even ones that are partially filled our or are suspect. Patriot Majority spokesman Bill Buck explained to TPM that the protocol is for someone from the voter registration drive to flag the forms in question to a local election official. It's unclear if the 10 questionable voting forms referred to by Lawson were also flagged by the Indiana Voter Registration Project.

On Oct. 6, Indiana State Police announced that they were going to expand their investigation from nine to 57 counties in the state. A local NBC affiliate reported that officials believed the number of voter registration forms that could have errors "could number in the hundreds."

There was no evidence given or further explanation into what the forms in question included.

Buck told TPM their group has little information about how widespread alleged errors are or even what kinds of errors investigators were looking into. Patriot Majority has also been arguing that Indiana's voter rolls contain inaccuracies in themselves that may help to explain why some of the voter registration forms they turned in did not match up with the state records.

"Hundreds of thousands of the Indiana Voter File records are inaccurate, duplicative, outdated, erroneous, invalid, inconsistent, and/or clearly the product of poor data management by Republican Secretary of State Connie Lawson," Patriot Majority said in a statement this week.

Intensifying the tensions even more, Indiana's top cop Doug Carter went on WRTV in Indiana last week and said "there's voter fraud and voter forgery in every state of America," but he wouldn't reveal what evidence he had to make such a claim.

"Carter refused to provide details about how many instances of voter fraud police have found, or the exact nature of the fraud — whether investigators found, for example, cases of people registering to vote multiple times or whether those ineligible to vote tried to register," the LA Times wrote.

That has worried voting rights advocates who say a state police investigation shortly before an election could have chilling effects on voting as well as perpetuating a false belief that voter fraud is widespread. It is not. Studies have found actual instances of voter fraud are exceedingly rare.

"I don't want to allow the specter of fraud to be so overblown that it justifies policies that are a disproportionate response and disenfranchise voters needlessly," said Myrna Perez, the deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program

In response to the media storm and very public battle over the case, Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry asked Wednesday that the Indiana State Police stop talking about the investigation, which he argued could be jeopardized by the widespread discussions of "voter fraud" that were being tossed around.

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Ryan and Ammon Bundy – the central characters in the occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in rural Oregon in January – were found "not guilty" Thursday in federal court of conspiracy to impede officers and other charges, the Associated Press reported.

The weeks-long standoff and subsequent trial have been a rallying point for anti-government extremists. Federal officials were hoping to make an example out of the Bundy brothers and five others who were prominent figures in the anti-government movement. The prosecution had extensive media reports as well as collected extensive evidence into the 41-day standoff.

According to the Seattle Times, after Ammon Bundy was acquitted, his lawyer Marcus Mumford argued that Bundy should be allowed to walk free immediately while U.S. District Judge Anna Brown insisted he stay in custody as Bundy still faced more charges in an upcoming trial related to the 2014 standoff on federal lands in Nevada.

The Seattle Times reported that the interaction grew so heated that Mumford was shouting in the court room before he was ultimately "tackled" by the U.S. marshals and eventually ordered into custody.

The jury deliberations also attracted attention Wednesday when a note from the jury alleged another juror was biased and had worked for the Bureau of Land Management, the federal agency that managed Malheur. The judge had the juror replaced.

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The Republican National Committee denied Thursday violating a decades-old consent decree that limits RNC "ballot security" activities which Democrats say amount to minority voter intimidation, and dismissed Democratic efforts in a court filing this week to have the RNC held in contempt of court.

"The filing is completely meritless," RNC spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said in a statement to TPM Thursday. "Just as in all prior elections in which the consent decree was in effect, the RNC strictly abides by the consent decree and does not take part directly or indirectly in any efforts to prevent or remedy vote fraud."

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In a dramatic escalation of a long legal battle between the national Democratic and Republican parties – and in what is arguably a fitting culmination to the year of Donald Trump – the Democratic National Committee is asking a federal court to hold the Republican National Committee in contempt of court for allegedly violating a decades-old consent decree limiting so-called "ballot security" activities at poll places.

The Democrats' filing Wednesday, among other things, ask that the consent decree -- which is set to expire Dec. 17 -- be extended for another eight years. The DNC is also asking the court to block any coordination between Trump and the RNC as it relates to Election Day poll monitoring activities that many fear will amount to voter intimidation.

The legal move by the DNC comes in response to Donald Trump's calls for vigilante "poll watchers" to come out in force nationwide on Election Day. The RNC had hoped to be freed from the consent decree as soon as next year, and Trump's actions now threaten to hobble the GOP for nearly another decade, if Democrats have their way.

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In 2012, President Obama wanted voters to think about Democratic achievements under his watch when they showed up at the ballot box. In 2016, he wants voters to remember Republican havoc-wreaking – and specifically the kind of dark conspiracy theories, straight-up racism and weak-kneed GOP opposition that have fueled the candidacy of Donald Trump.

In a spree of campaign stops in recent days that have featured some particularly biting attacks on down-the-ballot Republicans, Obama is unleashed and unmuzzled.

In the last week, he was in Florida taunting Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) for endorsing Trump after calling him a con artist. He led a “Heck no” chant from the stump in Nevada in support of Catherine Cortez Masto, the Democrat running against Rep. Joe Heck (R-NV) for Harry Reid’s seat. And at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser in California, he laid into Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), the former chair the House Oversight Committee who led a number of investigations into Obama administration pseudo-scandals. He couldn't resist, after the Issa campaign mailed fliers that suggested he had a productive relationship with Obama.

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