GOP plan: Link Dems to an email scandal
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Republicans seeking an edge in two increasingly tight Senate races are taking a cue from the presidential race: Link their rivals to an email scandal.

Sens. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Ron JohnsonRonald (Ron) Harold JohnsonGOP senators divided over approach to election security Democrats make U-turn on calling border a 'manufactured crisis' GOP frets about Trump's poll numbers MORE (Wis.) are demanding their Democratic opponents release their email records before Nov. 8, raising questions about whether the Democrats broke the law by plotting their candidacies while in their previous government posts.

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The search for a scandal comes as former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold has momentum in the Wisconsin race and Democrat Katie McGinty has Toomey in a fight for his political life in Pennsylvania. 

Republicans believe they have an opening as Democratic presidential nominee Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck The Memo: All eyes on faltering Biden ahead of first debate Trump says he's not prepared to lose in 2020 MORE, despite leading in national polls, has been haunted for months by her use of a private email server while leading the State Department. 

Despite her lead, Clinton is still viewed unfavorably by more than half of voters, according to the RealClearPolitics polling index. 

Republicans stress the dual-pronged email battle goes beyond politics. They say that voters have the right to know what’s in the emails and whether Democrats violated ethics guidelines before they head to the polls. 

But they are also racing to turn the tables after Democrats have spent months trying to nationalize the Senate fight by tying vulnerable GOP incumbents to Republican nominee Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE

Toomey quickly pivoted from pushing for McGinty’s emails and records when she was Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s chief of staff to the months-long battle for the State Department to release Clinton’s emails. 

“The question is, is Katie McGinty going to continue to ... hide this information from Pennsylvania voters,” he told the PennLive editorial board. “It's a remarkable parallel to the Clinton email escapade, where she obviously has emails that she has to hide." 

He added that while he didn’t know what was included in McGinty’s emails, “it certainly looks like there's something to hide." 

Republicans, who have nicknamed McGinty “Shady Katie," got a boost when a Pennsylvania court sided with state Republicans to require the Wolf administration to comply with a Right-to-Know request to turn over McGinty’s records. 

Under the request, the administration has 30 days, or Nov. 14, to comply with the court order. 

Republicans, however, are using a McGinty email that was swept up in the hack of Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta's account to pressure the administration to release the information before the election. 

In mid-July 2015, McGinty emailed Podesta noting she was being pressured to run for Senate and “would love your perspective.” 

The state GOP party filed an ethics complaint against McGinty over the email, arguing the email “to Hillary Clinton’s chief political advisor was designed to solicit specific advice on running for the United States Senate.”  

“Although the email was sent from Ms. McGinty’s personal email account, the prohibited activity was transacted during the course of Commonwealth business hours,” the complaint says. 

McGinty has denied that the Podesta email puts her in hot water with state rules, saying he’s a longtime friend. 

“This is a personal note from my personal account to a personal friend about a personal life decision,” she told the PennLive editorial board. 

Democrats also argue that the push for her records amounts to an election-year fishing expedition to help find an edge for Toomey in a state that typically swings toward Democrats during presidential election years. 

“Pat Toomey won't even tell his own constituents whom he's going to vote for for President, so they're willing to throw anything at Katie to try and distract from that. It's not working,” said McGinty's communications director, Sean Coit. 

Coit said the Democratic challenger has no problem with her records being made public, but also no control over when the Wolf administration decides to release them.

In the Wisconsin rematch election with Johnson, Republicans are also honing in on emails from Feingold's time at the State Department.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC) is requesting the State Department expedite its request of records from when Feingold was the special envoy to the Great Lakes region of Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo. 

Republicans believe Feingold used the State Department post to plot his Senate bid and violated the Hatch Act, which limits the political activity of federal employees. 

They point to Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterVA chief pressed on efforts to prevent veteran suicides Overnight Defense: US to send 1K more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions | Iran threatens to break limit on uranium production in 10 days | US accuses Iran of 'nuclear blackmail' | Details on key defense bill amendments Democrats aim to block defense money from being used on Trump border wall MORE's (D-Mont.) comments to The Hill in February 2015, where he said he talked with Feingold a month earlier about a potential rematch against Johnson.

The State Department previously said the records weren’t likely to be released before the election, but the NRSC is trying to keep a spotlight on the probe, blasting out a “fact sheet” on Feingold's "'very Hillary Clinton-Esque' State Department email scandal."

The group said that the Wisconsin Democrat "decided to copy Hillary Clinton's reckless conduct at the State Department."

Democrats stressed it is the State Department — not the former lawmaker — that decides when the documents will be released.

“This is something I have no concern about at all because literally they are making up a completely false charge just because it's mudslinging," Feingold told a local reporter last month.

Michael Tyler, a communications director, also previously chalked the NRSC probe up to Johnson acting like a “desperate politician” and resorting to “repeating baseless partisan attacks.” 

Brian Reisinger, Johnson's campaign spokesman, said voters "deserve to know whether Senator Feingold violated federal law by planning his campaign while collecting a payback from taxpayers."
 
"Between the 21-months of the State Department stonewalling Freedom of Information Act requests, Senator Feingold's own refusal to call for the immediate release of his records, and his track record as a 34-year career politician who says one thing and does another on every issue, Wisconsinites have plenty of reason to wonder what Senator Feingold is hiding from them," he said. 
 
Feingold told the Post-Crescent, a local newspaper, last month that he supported speeding up the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) process.

Democrats have taken their own shots at Johnson, targeting the $10 million the Wisconsin Republican received from PACUR, his former plastics company, before joining the Senate. 

Johnson argues the money was compensation for never taking a salary while he ran the company. But Democrats filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee, asking that it probe if the payment violated federal campaign laws.

"The Committee should immediately investigate these apparent violations. Specifically, the Committee should demand that Senator Johnson disclose the 'deferred compensation agreement,'" the group wrote in the letter earlier this year. "Senator Johnson must be held accountable for his $10 million corporate payout."