When third-party ballot access meets partisan meddling: From the Politics Desk

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When third-party ballot access meets partisan meddling: From the Politics Desk

Welcome to the online version of From the Politics Desk, an evening newsletter that brings you the NBC News Politics team’s latest reporting and analysis from the campaign trail, the White House and Capitol Hill.

In today’s edition, senior politics reporter Alex Seitz-Wald uncovers an effort by operatives linked to a GOP consulting firm to help put Cornel West on the ballot in a major battleground state. Plus, chief Washington correspondent and chief foreign affairs correspondent Andrea Mitchell breaks down the state of the cease-fire negotiations between Israel and Hamas.

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Operatives with GOP ties are helping Cornel West get on the ballot in a key state

By Alex Seitz-Wald

Cornel West’s independent presidential campaign is broke. His former campaign manager says he knows nothing about ballot access. And West spent more on graphic design than petition-gathering in his most recent campaign finance report.

But tens of thousands of signatures have been gathered on behalf of the famed left-wing academic in key states thanks to self-organized grassroots volunteers — and some help from outside operatives tied to a Republican consulting firm.

Democrats fear West’s potential to siphon votes from President Joe Biden in places where he is on the ballot in a close election, and some Republicans are publicly discussing ways to boost West and other minor candidates like Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and the Green Party’s Jill Stein in the hopes of splitting the anti-Donald Trump coalition.

In North Carolina, a new party formed in the state to get West on the ballot announced Monday that its “all-volunteer effort” had submitted more than 30,000 signatures, despite having virtually no oversight and receiving not “a cent” from West’s campaign.

But internal emails obtained by NBC News, social media posts and other evidence suggest someone from the outside — though it’s unclear who or how much, if anything, they spent — was trying to help West get on the ballot in North Carolina, even if his grassroots allies were not fully aware of it.

Emails from elections officials show the pro-West Justice for All Party authorized three people to pick up and drop off signatures for them statewide — and all three are current or past employees of a Colorado-based Republican political firm called Blitz Canvassing.

Blitz Canvassing has worked for numerous Republican House and Senate candidates and took in more than $14.6 million in payments working for Never Back Down, the main super PAC that supported former GOP presidential candidate and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, according to campaign finance reports.

Read more from Alex here →

Inside the strained state of Israel-Hamas negotiations

By Andrea Mitchell

A week after the president announced what he described as a new Israeli cease-fire and hostage deal, none of the players involved can even agree on who proposed it — much less whether it can ever become a reality.

The U.S. and Israel are taking opposite tacks toward pressuring Hamas to accept the deal: the U.S. through diplomacy, Israel by military action. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has burned up the phone lines to get every Arab leader and the G7 to endorse the plan. Now, Blinken is following up on those phone calls, announcing today he’ll travel to the Middle East next week — his eighth trip to the region since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks in Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite agreeing to the deal as a member of Israel’s war Cabinet, has been running away from it ever since and continuing attacks on Rafah.

U.S. officials say privately that Netanyahu’s tactics are misguided and mainly a political response to prevent hard-right Cabinet ministers from bringing down his coalition government if he ends the war. Arab diplomats tell NBC News both Hamas and Israel are open to “phase one” — a six-week pause in hostilities accompanied by a hostage release and Palestinian prisoner exchange.

But, they say, Hamas wants the cease-fire to be permanent in the second phase, a condition Israel will not accept.

Israel also objects to Hamas playing any role in Gaza after the war. The U.S. and Hamas don’t want Israel to remain there as a security force. All of this has further strained the already difficult relationship between Biden and Netanyahu. The president further inflamed those tensions by telling Time magazine “there is every reason” people could conclude Netanyahu was prolonging the war for his own political survival.

Biden tried to clean that up later, telling NBC News’ Gabe Gutierrez he doesn’t think Netanyahu is playing politics.

But with the administration sending Middle East negotiator Brett McGurk to the region — and CIA Director William Burns detouring to Doha midweek to meet with Egyptian and Qatari counterparts — securing a cease-fire and hostage release acceptable to both Israel and Hamas is going to require direct diplomacy at a much higher level. I’ll be on the ground with Blinken next week reporting on his push to get a deal over the finish line.

That’s all from The Politics Desk for now. If you have feedback — likes or dislikes — email us at politicsnewsletter@nbcuni.com

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This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

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