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TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  John Lewis Has Died
      •  Saturday Q&A
      •  Today's Presidential Polls
      •  Today's Senate Polls

John Lewis Has Died

Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), who battled cancer for six months, succumbed to the disease late Friday. He was 80 years old.

Lewis, who was in the midst of his 17th term, was one of the giants of the House, and was eulogized as "the Conscience of the Congress" in a statement issued by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). He was also the last living member of the "Big Six," the men who led and served as the public face of the Civil Rights Movement. By chance, Lewis' passing comes on the same day as that of another civil rights icon, Rev. C. T. Vivian, who died of natural causes at the age of 95.

The loss of Lewis will be felt particularly keenly as the Congress tries to grapple with the issues raised by the killing of George Floyd, and the subsequent unrest thereafter. His would have been a key voice in that discussion. Nothing has been announced, thus far, about funerary arrangements. However, if Lewis' casket is not allowed to lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda, then they may as well do away with the practice. A eulogy from Barack Obama is a pretty safe bet, as well. (Z)

Saturday Q&A

It was a wild week, which means lots of interesting questions. Here's hoping we can live up to them with interesting answers.

Q: During the George W. Bush era, I bought and read a number of books which were not particularly flattering to the President. Of course, I also never voted for him and never had even a moment's consideration of voting for him—primarily because I believed Dick Cheney was pulling all the strings in the White House and I was no fan of Cheney whatsoever.

Fast forward to today, where books are coming out left and right, including A Warning, The Room Where It Happened and now Mary Trump's Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World's Most Dangerous Man flying off the shelves at a record pace. How much do you think these tell-all books may move the needle on Election Day? For me, I was buying all those books on Dubya not to be persuaded but just out of curiosity and a general interest in politics. I can't imagine a single person in Trump's base is going to buy, read, or care about what Mary Trump has to say. So, are these books being released just to make a dollar off of a shady White House or do these insiders actually believe that they can sway the opinions of some voters?
K.C., Levittown, NY

Q: To me, it seems like these tell-alls are the equivalent of a "behind the scenes" episode of a TLC trash TV series. It feeds that itch for drama for those that have the luxury to take a step back, sip their frappés, and analyze current events.

Politically, they're not effective at changing minds, since the Trump base has chosen their hill to die on and (as you mentioned) the books won't be bought by their base. Socially, the books won't help enact change except to further upset those who are already upset. Source-wise they're not exactly reliable, because the authors have quite a bit to gain (money, 15 minutes of fame, etc) with little to lose (especially because the books are released at the peak of election year).

So what exactly is the point of these tell-alls, and who is the intended audience?
R.L., Los Angeles, CA

A: We can certainly understand your skepticism that these books will actually affect the election, and we largely share it. There is little question that these works were written primarily to make a buck (with Mary Trump the possible exception), and they will largely be purchased by Trump haters looking for their fix of "Trump sucks" porn.

That said, we would suggest you consider another book from many years ago, namely Uncle Tom's Cabin. If there is any segment of the American public that was more invested in their political stance than Trump supporters, it is slaveholders. Undoubtedly, they were not buying up copies of the book, reading it, and experiencing a "come to Jesus" moment. In fact, Southerners undertook a campaign of destroying any copies of the book that found their way South. Still, the book moved the needle on slavery nonetheless, by starting a dialog in the North, and by dragging some sizable number of folks who were previously neutral toward the anti-slavery end of the spectrum.

These anti-Trump books will be read by some number of people, but they will also be discussed by some much larger number of people. They will be excerpted in magazines and newspapers, and will be covered on news and entertainment programs. So, we can expect them to have reach well beyond their (substantial) sales numbers. It could be that some number of voters, who have been wondering about Trump's mental state, will be influenced by a trained psychologist (Mary Trump) decreeing unambiguously that there is something wrong there. It could be that some number of voters, who have been wondering about Trump's foreign policy, will be influenced by a former UN Ambassador (John Bolton) decreeing unambiguously that there is something wrong there.

Q: Several times, you have mentioned Mary Trump's claim that the President paid someone to take his SATs. I am surprised that nothing else has been reported about this yet. Do you know if the person she indicated took the SAT test for Trump is still alive? If he is, how is it possible that nothing more has been reported on about this claim? J.S., Hightstown, NJ

A: His name is (or was) Joe Shapiro. At least one Joe Shapiro that Trump knew died in 1999 from non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Pam Shriver, the widow of that Joe Shapiro is pushing back against the story, and says her husband would never have done something like that.

Mary Trump has responded to this by apologizing to Shriver and saying that the SAT-taker was actually a different Joe Shapiro. Maybe that is true, and Shapiro #2 will come forward. Or maybe some other evidence (cashed check, another contemporaneous witness) will come to light. However, at the moment, this story is in the "he said, she said" box.

Q: Is it possible for SAT results to be invalidated by the revelation of verified cheating? Are you aware of any such cases?

In addition, would it be possible for Wharton Business School to revoke Donald's degree on the grounds of knowingly providing false information during the admission process? Fordham University is also in the mix, but, of course, there are no degrees for them to revoke.

Also, how practical would it be for investigators, either public or private, to obtain and inspect any theses, essays or papers purportedly written by Donald at Fordham and/or Penn? How long are such undergraduate materials typically kept on file?
D.R., Omaha, NE

A: We're going to start with the last part of your question. There is zero chance that any of Trump's college schoolwork still exists at Fordham or Penn. Generally speaking, the rule is that unreturned finals, papers, etc. have to be kept for one year in case any disputes arise in regards to grading. And any professor can attest that it's impractical to keep work much beyond that, because it builds up very fast. No professor has an office large enough to keep 50 years' worth of student work on file. The only exception to this would be if Trump did some sort of thesis project; those often have to be retained in the permanent collection of the university's library. But there's no evidence he did, and even then, it is only sometimes the case that undergraduate theses have to be retained. At some schools, it's only Master's theses and Ph.D. dissertations.

As to the SAT, it is indeed possible for results to be invalidated on the basis of cheating. That happens all the time, in fact. Sometimes, witnesses to the cheating come forward, and sometimes a test is thrown out because the answers/results seem screwy (for example, the test-taker got all the hard questions but missed the easy ones). If the College Board tried to invalidate Trump's SAT scores, however, they'd get sued, and it would be very hard for them to win, since the only proof of fraud they have is hearsay.

As to degrees being revoked, it is possible, but very, very rare. Universities are not eager to revoke degrees, as it is a high-profile admission that they screwed up. So, it's almost never done. And when it is done, 99.9% of the time it is because the work done to "earn" the degree was later proven to be fraudulent (plagiarized, made-up data, etc.). Revoking a degree because admission was gained on a fraudulent basis is almost unheard of. The most recent case we can find was in 2014, when Stanford revoked an MBA because the diplomate's admission paperwork was found to be fraudulent.

Q: You have yet to convince me that the Lincoln Project is even a tiny bit effective. The commercials are like a Saturday Night Live parody: over-the-top claims with the guy in a low voice. And we get it: Trump is a monster. My suggestion to the Lincoln Project would be to walk through important political issues, so voters can listen and be informed. The current ads are just noise. A.L., Osaka, Japan

A: You may be right, but we will point out two things. The first is that the ads are not meant to talk to people like you, or like us, and so we may not be the best judges of their effectiveness. The second is that advertising quite often works on a subliminal level, exposing us to a message over and over until we internalize it on a subconscious level.

Q: It seems that the commercials I am seeing here in Arizona for Joe Biden have been entirely positive and do not even mention Donald Trump. I am, of course, also seeing the blisteringly negative anti-Trump ads by the Lincoln Project (and Republicans Against Trump). If Biden wants to remain "above the fray" and let Lincoln be his "attack dog" (which they seem to do better, anyway), can Biden legally send money from his rapidly growing war chest directly to the Lincoln Project to pay for some really effective anti-Trump TV ads? N.B., Phoenix, AZ

A: Yes and no. The Lincoln Project is a Super PAC, and so by law it is illegal for the Biden campaign to partner with them, money or no.

However, the creative work for the Lincoln Project is not done in-house; it's done by production firms hired for the purpose (in the same way that Ford or Coke or IBM don't make their own commercials). When Ben Howe was fired this week, all that really meant was that the Lincoln Project would not be hiring his firm (Howe Creative) anymore. There is nothing stopping the Biden campaign from hiring the same production firms that the Lincoln Project uses, and paying those firms to make some ads, if that is what Biden 2020 wants to do.

That said, this is something of an academic discussion. The Lincoln Project is clearly having no problem raising money, and knows full well what soft spots to hit Donald Trump on. They don't particularly need assistance from the Biden campaign, and the Biden campaign is happy to leave them to their own devices.

Q: Perhaps, with your online expertise, you can help me with my questions about online political ads. No matter if I'm on non-political websites or the most liberal websites around, nearly every ad is a political one, either Pro-Trump or Pro-Guns. I click on the Google corner "x" to report "ad was inappropriate." Even though I do this for every single Pro-Trump and Pro-Gun ad, they still continue to infect the websites I visit. Occasionally I will get a pro-Biden or Pro-Democrat ad which I'm sure to not report. My question is: Why is someone who goes to liberal websites and is very anti-Trump getting flooded with Pro-Trump Ads? Also, do you know of any effective way to not receive these ads from Trump and his lickspittle lackeys? I really do find them grossly offensive.

In a similar vein, today I received an e-mail from the Trump campaign calling me a loyal follower and promising to share insider strategy on the upcoming campaign. I have never been to Trump's campaign site and my only contact with him was a few months ago when I sent an e-mail to the White House expressing in no uncertain terms that my fondest wish was for Trump and his inbred family to be frog marched out of the White House as traitors and sent to prison for the rest of their miserable existence. Yet somehow I'm now considered a loyal follower. That seems like Trump is using a White House contact list for his re-election campaign which I thought was a no no. Is that correct? Not that it will do any good but is there an agency that I could complain to? If the campaign thinks that I am a loyal acolyte after calling the President an "infantile, bleach-guzzling idiot" than someone is throwing away a lot of money for zero return.

P.S.: I moved to nearby Lancaster because I felt sorry for making you have to spell Lititz.
D.E., Lancaster, PA

A: When anyone runs an online advertising campaign, they have some input into the people who see their ads. Depending on the platform, the advertiser may say "show my ad to anyone who searches for 'MAGA'," or they may say "show my ad to users you believe to be white men." So, the issue here lies not with Google's algorithm, but with the Trump campaign. There isn't a lot you can do, unless you want to install an ad blocker like Adblock Plus.

The sloppy and wasteful nature of the Trump campaign's targeting has been a topic of much discussion. In fact, Paul Begala wrote an op-ed about it this week, pointing out that he received a very expensive pro-Trump mailer, and observing that targeting the guy who ran Bill Clinton's 1992 election campaign may not be the best use of Trump 2020 resources. Anyhow, this approach—shotgun, rather than laser—surely helps explain why the campaign is burning through money, but getting little in the way of results.

As to harvesting the e-mail addresses from messages sent to the White House, it's a little shady, but probably not illegal. Further, as you may have heard, there isn't a lot of enforcement of rules in this administration. It would also be hard to prove that they got your address that way, as opposed to purchasing someone else's list. Sometimes, (Z) does experiments where he signs up for something with a newly-created e-mail address, and then sees what other mail lists the address ends up on. One account began with a sign-up for Target's mailers, and ended up on—you guessed it—the Trump mail list, as well as those for Ben Shapiro/The Daily Wire, and (recently) Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX).

Too bad you moved; now we won't have any excuse to link to the "Le Tits Now" video.

Q: I'm trying to reconcile several pieces you wrote this week. On the one hand, (V) wrote that Democratic voter registrations trail Republican ones, and Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-MI) is sounding the alarm that all is not what it may seem in the Midwest. On the other hand, (Z) wrote an item about Trump's falling poll numbers and Biden's foray into Texas. If Democratic registrations are indeed lagging behind Republicans, how far is too far to offset sagging poll numbers? And are these things relative? For instance, we saw record turnout in 2018, so maybe many of the Democrats are already registered? How to make sense of this? A.R., Los Angeles, CA

A: Usually, we are on the same page about most things, but the Slotkin piece was one where (Z) was much less impressed with the Representative's insights than (V) was. (Z) found her analysis to be a little provincial; well-attuned to her particular district (and maybe a few others), but not particularly relevant to most House races.

Similarly, the article about registrations could have used a lot more context. Politico, which was the source, did not do much to give cold, hard numbers. Consequently, it is not entirely clear exactly how meaningful this is. It certainly appears that part of the reason that the Republicans are ahead is because registrations are way down, which means that it isn't too hard for them to be in the lead. There's no evidence, as yet, that we're looking at any sort of true difference-maker here.

As to Trump's falling poll numbers, we think the piece you are referring to was actually written by (V). And that gets us to the answer to your overall question: We are in agreement that Trump is in serious trouble. (Z) probably has it a bit more dire than (V) does, but we both think the President's a clear underdog at this point.

Q: I know you don't usually write about House races, but it occurred to me this morning that Republicans may have one small advantage floating in the sea of their bad news. Namely, in a number of districts, the Democratic advantage is driven by votes from college students. However, with many colleges and universities moving toward remote learning this fall, many students will now be voting in their home districts rather than in the districts where they go to school. How much impact do you think this will have this fall? Will it allow Republicans to possibly pick off a few college-based districts to offset the additional suburban districts they will likely lose? L.S., Greensboro, NC

A: It's possible that could affect a few closely contested races in mostly rural states, but we don't think the effect will be terribly profound. First of all, even with remote learning, a lot of the faculty, staff, and even students will still be in residence at or near the university. Second, students notoriously don't show up to vote. Third, the student population of a university is usually a not-that-enormous drop in the bucket as part of the larger population of the district. The population of the U.S. is about 330 million and there are 435 districts, the average district has about 760,000 people. If a university in the district has 30,000 students, that is 4%. Take all these things together, and the number of votes lost to Democrats in most of these districts will not often be decisive.

Q: How does the Veep selection process work? Does the campaign committee acquire FBI records, talk to the kindergarten teachers, and interview the candidates? Will Joe Biden interview the final contestants himself? Does a committee assist in picking the Veep, or is Biden the lone decider? How did Sarah Palin come out on top in the process when there were other better choices? W.F., Blairs Mills, PA

A: Each campaign has its own process, but the general approach these days is to hire an army of lawyers and investigators to lay hands on every piece of information that the opposition might eventually find: social media posts, op-eds, public statements, high school yearbooks, dirty secrets known by cousins, criminal records, tax returns, etc. Usually, the candidate provides much of this, including stuff that isn't publicly available, such that the Biden campaign will likely have considerably more information about potential running mates than the Trump campaign might plausibly get.

This is not always the case, but Biden will undoubtedly play a central role in the process. An interview is possible, although he already knows many of the candidates personally. It's also somewhat common for the would-be VP and the presidential nominee to do a little campaigning together, to see how that goes. Biden will get input from a lot of people but he's basically the final decider. Actually, it's the Democratic Party that is the final decider, but it would be very unusual these days (less unusual in the past) for the Party to refuse the running mate preferred by the presumptive nominee.

Sarah Palin got the #2 slot in 2008 because the McCain campaign's vetting process was shockingly sloppy, particularly for someone who had no national profile (the Trump campaign was sloppy, too, but the fact that Mike Pence was a representative and a governor meant he was already de facto vetted). Anyhow, if Palin had been vetted more carefully, some of her liabilities (like her total ignorance of public policy) would surely have come to light. She ultimately got the nod because McCain's advisers persuaded him that he was doing poorly with the right-wingers/tea partiers, and also with younger Republicans and women. So, they believed a young, far-right, female running mate was the medicine for what ailed his campaign. They were wrong.

Q: I've been a big fan of Stacey Abrams since she was (possibly) robbed of the governorship of Georgia in 2018, thanks to the GOP's voter suppression. Her response to this loss, including her founding of Fair Fight Action, was classy and productive. I was thrilled when she became a prime contender to be Joe Biden's running mate. To me, she is more exciting than the other contenders, and seems at least as articulate and intelligent as any of them. She is far more charismatic than Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA), who nonetheless gets consistent billing as a top choice. My thoughts, both initially and now, are that she could be instrumental in swinging not only Georgia, but also North Carolina and Florida, to the Biden column by energizing the (potentially huge) black vote in those three swing states.

Lately, however, Abrams seems to have disappeared from view. Few of the articles I see on women in the VP hunt even list her any more. This omission has had me screaming at my computer more than once. Has she been quietly dropped from consideration, or eclipsed by others? Would you comment on the reason(s) for this?
B.L., Hudson, NY

A: The Biden campaign has said virtually nothing about what qualities it's looking for, beyond "female." And so, these lists are based on guesses by outsiders. The guesses are informed, but they aren't necessarily correct.

Meanwhile, there are only three types of VP stories right now: (1) Here's a profile of the potential candidate, (2) "This candidate is on the rise!", and (3) "This candidate is on the decline!" Everyone pretty much knows Abrams' backstory by now, so there isn't much need for profiles. And she's neither obviously rising nor obviously declining. So there just isn't much of an angle there.

Q: I keep reading about an October surprise from AG Bill Barr. Isn't it also possible that Manhattan DA Cy Vance may also have an October surprise of his own? D.W., Boca Raton, FL

A: Certainly. And because of the speed at which the wheels of justice are currently turning, it might not even look like an obvious political hit job. Vance might get legal sanction for an indictment of Donald Trump in October, and then take it.

Q: What level of scandal or revelation about the respective two POTUS candidates would be required to alter the likely vote for either candidate? M.O., Arlington County, VA

A: It is difficult to imagine a scandal that would affect Donald Trump at this point. Lies? Sexual misconduct? Abuse of power? Obstruction of justice? Been there, done that. Joe Biden is surely much more vulnerable, if he's credibly accused of sexual harassment, or he's caught saying something racist, or something like that.

That said, Trump is still more likely to suffer a catastrophic drop in his support than Biden is. While a scandal isn't going to bring Trump down, the buck stops with him when it comes to national developments, whether he likes it or not. If COVID-19 keeps getting worse, or there's a war with Iran, or there is some other major setback, that would not be a "scandal," per se, but it could certainly dent the President's support.

Q: In all of the recent polls you've included on your website, Donald Trump and Joe Biden have been statistically tied in Texas. Yet, you've expressed significant skepticism about Texas flipping blue this year.

What are the reasons for doubting the polls? At what point does the data trump the priors?
E.V., Austin, TX

A: There are three reasons we remain reluctant when it comes to Texas flipping. The first is that it's been predicted so many times in the past five or six cycles, and yet hasn't happened. The second is that if the Lone Star State really does appear likely to flip, it shouldn't be too hard for the GOP to whip its voters up and save it. The third is that ticket-splitting is pretty rare these days, and as long as Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) has a 10-point lead, we find it difficult to accept that one Texan in ten (and something like one Republican in six) will vote for a Republican for the Senate and a Democrat for the White House.

If Biden opens up a clear and consistent lead, or the Hegar/Cornyn race gets tighter, then we'll be less skeptical.

Q: Why haven't there been any polls for the U.S. Senate race in Kentucky since June 15? I believe that this is/will be a hotly contested race. A.J.O., Pearl City, HI

A: Remember, someone has to pay for them. There aren't that many outlets in Kentucky that have that kind of cash. And among the ones that do, we suspect they are waiting for the dust to settle from the primary, and in particular for the folks who voted for (defeated Democratic candidate) Charles Booker to decide how they feel about Amy McGrath.

Q: Can you explain why you don't use some polls that I see on other sites such as RCP? For example, Gravis had a poll for Florida this week that you haven't included. Your FAQ says that you don't use polls from partisan pollsters, but you said on July 4 that Gravis is "not inherently partisan." And you said on May 30 that you don't use pollsters rated lower than C- by, but Gravis gets a C there. So why don't you use Gravis polls? I am not a supporter of Gravis; I'm just curious. J.S., Chevy Chase, MD

A: Sorry, the remark on July 4th wasn't right. Gravis is definitely a Republican outfit. Its clients include Mike Pence, Justin Amash, Kelli Ward, Michael Burgess, Rick Santorum, and many other prominent Republicans.

Q: Why are Jo Jorgensen and the other candidates not on your site? Why are the two parties the only ones allowed to say who gets to debate and who gets put on all the ballots? This is not American. J.B., Wilmington, NC

A: Our mission is to predict, as best we can, who will win the presidential election and the Senate races. The winner will be either the candidate of the Republican Party or of the Democratic Party. And so, those are the candidates we track. Jorgensen and Howie Hawkins aren't the only other people running for president. Actually, 1,143 people have filed with the FEC to run for president, from Aaron Avouris to Zoltan Gyurko Istvan. Most of them are running for the Democratic or Republican nomination, but there are other parties in the U.S. as well. Six parties hold seats somewhere and another 58 parties would like to have seats somewhere. These include the Prohibition Party (founded in 1869) to more recent creations like the Transhumanist Party (founded in 2014). We also don't follow them very well either. We tend to pay at least a bit of attention to the Green Party and the Libertarian Party because they are on the ballot in many states. If the other parties can collect enough signatures, they, too, can get on the ballot, but if they haven't made it onto the ballot we don't feel they are worthy of much attention on a site that tracks elections. Unlike kids soccer on Saturday morning, in politics you don't get a medal for just trying.

Q: When are the first votes cast for this year's Presidential election? By in-person early voting, absentee, whatever? R.J., Dayton, NJ

A: The very first votes will be cast by folks in Minnesota and South Dakota; both are allowed to cast in-person absentee votes 46 days before the election (i.e., mid-September). They will be closely followed by residents in Michigan, New Jersey, Vermont, Virginia, and Wyoming, who can begin to cast their ballots 45 days before the election. A complete calendar is here.

Q: Assuming that Donald Trump loses in November, what kind of "scorched earth" tactics is he likely (and able) to deploy between Election Day and Inauguration Day? Along those lines, what are the chances that Trump pulls a no-show on Inauguration Day? J.M., Jacksonville, FL

A: While he certainly could try to throw a temper tantrum, and we've definitely seen a lot of concern about this, we actually think there is little to be concerned about. First, there is little that Trump can do without cooperation from other members of the federal government, and they are likely to refuse problematic orders, or just drag their feet to run out the clock. So, no nuking Iran, no releasing all federal prisoners, no re-segregating the federal government, we think. Second, and forgive our editorializing here, but Trump has proven himself to be a coward. He is unlikely to do something truly violent or destructive, because he just doesn't have the stomach for it.

Q: Given Donald Trump's aggressive use of executive orders during his presidency, I'm curious how many immediate changes an elected president could make on day one using similar orders. Could a new president issue a blanket order reversing or revoking many, most, or all of the prior administration's actions in a massive do-over? If not, how close might they come? J.M., Silver Lake, WA

A: As we've learned with DACA, some executive orders of past administrations cannot be overturned by pure fiat. There has to be some sort of justification and due diligence. So, if Joe Biden (or anyone else) issued a blanket "everything my predecessor did is erased" order, it would not be 100% kosher. It would also be somewhat impractical and disruptive; some changes require time to implement (and possibly some input from various stakeholders).

That said, Trump's executive orders are not a secret. If Joe Biden wins the election on Nov. 3, he could put together a team to review all of them, and to prepare some sizable number of countermanding orders to be issued on Jan. 20. We suspect Team Biden would be considerably better at dotting the i's and crossing the t's than Team Trump has been.

Q: I was browsing your Senate page, and was surprised to find Sen. Tom Cotton (R-AR) running unopposed. Do you have any theories as to why the Democrats failed to recruit a candidate there? I.K., Queens, NY

A: We don't have to theorize; we know the exact answer. The Democrats actually did have a candidate; his name is Josh Mahony. After the deadline to get on the ballot passed, he dropped out of the race, citing unspecified "medical problems." Many people think he is being less than truthful, and that: (1) he's got some skeleton in his closet that he knew was going to come to light, and (2) that he tried to craft an excuse that would allow the Democrats to replace him, since Arkansas law only allows post-deadline replacements if the original candidate dies, becomes seriously ill, moves to another state, or files for another office. Since Mahony is unwilling (or unable) to prove he's got health issues, and since the seat is a lost cause anyhow, the Democratic Party decided not to try to fight for a replacement in court.

Q: Are there any scenarios where Sen. Doug Jones (D-AL) could win re-election, short of Tommy Tuberville being caught doing something as bad or worse than what Roy Moore was accused of? Financial crimes don't seem to shock voters as much as child molestation, and Jones only barely beat Moore in a special election when Donald Trump wasn't even on the ballot. Is Doug Jones still basically hopeless? D.T., San Jose, CA

Q: I know little of Alabama, but I do know of the rivalry between the (larger) University of Alabama and (smaller) Auburn University. Is there any likelihood that Doug Jones, a U. of A. alumnus, can excite the larger Crimson Tide alumni pool to vote for him over a former Auburn coach? R.M., Brooklyn, NY

A: It's a tall hill to climb, but not nearly as tall as it would be if Jones' opponent was Jeff Sessions.

As graduates of universities with notable rivalries, we doubt that the football rivalry will be a meaningful factor. However, Tuberville's financial misdeeds make him appear to be either corrupt or stupid, and Team Jones will try very hard to stick him with both labels. Also, do not underestimate the impact of the fact that Tuberville is not an Alabaman, and is perceived by many residents as a carpetbagger. He was born in Arkansas, graduated from Southern Arkansas University, and currently lives in Florida. Jones was born in Alabama, graduated from the University of Alabama, and lives in Alabama. Jones is an underdog, no doubt about it, but he's not dead in the water the way that, say, the Democratic nominee in Wyoming will be.

Q: How will the campaign contributions to Sara Gideon's (D) general election fund be counted, in light of the speculative fund that's been sitting waiting for the primary to be over? I presume those contributions now have to be counted as contributions to Gideon, meaning that anyone who contributed the maximum to the fund cannot contribute more now that she's the nominee. Do you think many donors will forget this detail? Will it now become burdensome to her campaign to identify and return overcontributions? S.K., Sunnyvale, CA

A: That's an excellent question. The money was raised through Crowdpac, which may sound like a Super PAC, but isn't. It's actually a crowdfunding website, basically a political version of Kickstarter. That means they know what information to collect, and so would be able to turn it over to the Gideon campaign.

We actually don't think it will be too much of an issue for Gideon and her team. First, they have to keep track of who has and hasn't donated, whether they collected the information/money or someone else did. Second, the counter restarts every time there's a new round of voting. So, if someone donated to Gideon in the primary and also donated to the Crowdpac, there's no issue, because the donations cover different elections (primary and general). Third, the Crowdpac money was mostly from outside Maine, so the donor list isn't going to overlap all that much with the donor list the Gideon campaign puts together (which will be much heavier on Mainers).

Q: What would the process be for getting rid of the filibuster in the Senate? Could the process itself be filibustered? A.T., Arlington, MA

A: There are three ways it might be done. The first would be for a senator to propose a change to Senate rules, and for the entire Senate to discuss the matter and vote upon it. If done this way, it would require 60 votes, and would indeed be filibusterable.

The second option, and the way it would actually be done if a change was made, would be to use a parliamentary maneuver that has come to be known as the "nuclear option." At the moment, it is Senate Rule XXII that establishes the filibuster. However, Senate Rule XX allows senators to raise points of order, to be decided by a simple majority vote, and without debate. On top of that, the Senate is bound not only by its rules, but by precedents set during the course of business. And so, what would happen is this:

  1. The Senate Majority Leader (presumably Chuck Schumer, D-NY, in this scenario) would ask the presiding officer (usually the President Pro Tem) to close debate on some measure with a simple majority vote.
  2. The presiding officer would declare that to be a violation of Rule XXII.
  3. The Majority Leader would invoke Rule XX, and would appeal the ruling of the presiding officer.
  4. Assuming 51 senators agreed that the presiding officer's ruling was "wrong," then the presiding officer would be overruled, a new precedent would be set, and the rules would effectively be rewritten.

Another possibility could occur on the day the Senate convenes (Jan. 3). It is not entirely clear whether the new Senate automatically inherits the rules set by the previous one. Normally no one argues the point, but suppose a new Sen. Kelly, Hickenlooper, or Gideon were to say: "Whoa! I wasn't here when those old rules were made and I don't feel bound by them. I want the Senate to adopt new rules. There would be discussion and a vote decided by a simple majority. This is a bit of a gray area, but since the Constitution explicitly gives the Senate the power to set its own rules, a decision to adopt brand new rules (without a filibuster) could not be appealed.

Q: You have mentioned the Apportionment Act of 1911, which set Congress' current size of 435 seats. I have a couple of questions about this: Given that was over a hundred years ago and the U.S. population was less than a third of what it is today, why has this act not been updated? C.P., Baltimore, MD

A: There are four primary explanations, we would say:

  1. People are resistant to change.
  2. Physical space in the House chamber, as well as office space, would be a big problem.
  3. Such a move would dilute the power of the 435 people that would have to approve it.
  4. Such a move would massively shift power away from small states and swing states toward larger states. If, for example, the size of a congressional district was pegged to what it was in 1911 (about 212,000 people), then California would gain roughly 130 seats in Congress and 130 electoral votes. At the other end of the spectrum, Wyoming would gain...two of each.

Q: I have been thinking about the upcoming election and was wondering: If Joe Biden wins and the Democrats retake the Senate, would it be constitutional for congress to pass a law declaring that the states that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and then again in 2020 have proven themselves to be unfit to ever get to elect a president again, and so will be demoted to U.S. territories? L.A., Kufstein, Austria

A: In theory? It's possible. After the Civil War, the Confederate States were treated as if they had forfeited their statehood, and so they had to earn re-admission to the union. A very different kind of circumstance, and it wasn't examined much by the courts, but there is some legal precedent there that might plausibly be invoked.

In reality, of course, it would never, ever happen.

Q: Quick: What state has the longest official state name? If you guessed the "State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" you would be correct. That is 29 square miles per letter!

Currently, the state is looking into shortening their name and so far the governor has signed an executive order that removes the lesser-known parts from most printed and digital material. What does it take to actually change a state name? Is this an issue the state can resolve on their own, or do they need to ask permission from the federal level like they would if they wanted to change time zones?

As a related question is it the same process for switching to/from a commonwealth?
N.G., Millbury, Commonwealth of Massachusetts

A: The official names of states are established by state law (and are normally enshrined in state constitutions). They can change anytime they want without the approval of the federal government. So, if Maryland wants to change its name to Black Lives Matter to needle Donald Trump, they can do it.

There is no distinction between "state" and "commonwealth" in American law; it's purely a question of identity. So if any of the four current commonwealths (Kentucky, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, and Virginia) want to become states, or any of the 46 current states want to become commonwealths, they can do so at their leisure.

Q: Is there any chance that Gov. Brian Kemp (R-GA) can be impeached by the Georgia legislature? L.K., Los Angeles, CA

A: Is it legally possible? It is, though he would have to be deemed guilty of a violation of the Georgia constitution, or of a crime, in order to be removed. This is not a "high crimes and misdemeanors" situation, where the standard for removal is open to interpretation.

A more plausible mechanism is recall, which Georgia—like most states—allows for any reason the voters deem fit. This would require the state legislature to pass a resolution, then the collection of signatures from a number of voters equal or greater than 15% of the total votes cast in the gubernatorial election in 2018, and then an actual recall election, where a majority would have to vote to dump Kemp.

Neither of these things is likely to happen. First of all, the Georgia legislature has a big Republican majority in both houses, and they are not likely to vote to impeach or recall Kemp. Second, regardless of the circumstances, gubernatorial impeachments and recalls are very rare. Only eight governors have ever been impeached and removed in all of U.S. history, and only two of those came in the last century (Evan Meacham in Arizona and Rod Blagojevich in Illinois). And only two governors have ever been recalled (Lynn Frazier in North Dakota and Gray Davis in California).

Q: My brother (who lives in Arizona) concedes that governmental restrictions (masks, bars, travel, stay-at-home) may save lives, but says they also have a cost. In his view, the cost is too high. Does he have a point? What are we paying for each life saved? M.L.M., San Jose, CA

A: It is a very weak argument, because it presumes a binary choice: That we can either choose human life, and suffer whatever economic loss that entails, or we can choose the economy, and suffer whatever loss of human life that entails. But it's not that simple. The moment COVID-19 became a pandemic, disastrous economic consequences were a given. Even if the federal government had done nothing, local governments would have shut down economic activity. And even if local governments had not acted, vast numbers of citizens would have been unwilling to go to stores, restaurants, work, and so forth.

And so, instead of conceiving of public health and the economy as competing imperatives, it is much more wise and correct to conceive of them as complementary imperatives—whatever protects one protects the other. If the United States had really, seriously locked down and stopped the person-to-person transmission of the disease in its tracks, we might have largely resolved the public health issue while also allowing the economy to reopen after a relatively brief pause (6-8 weeks).

Instead, with a disjointed response and no particular leadership at the top, the public health crisis is as bad as it's been and the economy is in serious disarray (and will be for a good, long while). Oh, and the original issue remains: Donald Trump, Brian Kemp, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-FL), et al., can announce that all is well, but that doesn't mean that the American people (most of them) will play along.

Q: Does anyone know if Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Notorious R.B.G., has a DNR or other end-of-life instructions? After all she's done for our country, I have to believe she wouldn't let herself die without first leaving instructions to keep her alive under any and all circumstances with the best modern medicine available until at least January 20, 2021. I know I'd sleep better if I knew that was the case. I would happily donate any of my organs she may need if that's what it takes. (I suspect I'm not the only one!) S.S., West Hollywood, CA

A: The only person who can share that information is RBG herself, and she would never share such personal information, especially since she would subject herself to pressure from one group of partisans or the other. She has two adult children and could possibly have given one of them a medical power of attorney with appropriate instructions.

Q: Who is the final arbiter on whether a justice is actually deceased? Could a justice be held in a coma on life support until a next term? And if so, is the period of time simply a question of political viability? If Donald Trump were to be re-elected, is it remotely realistic that a justice could be held on life support for 4 years? D.H., San Francisco, CA

A: As we said, if it came down to that, this would make the Terri Schiavo situation look like a day at the park. Presumably, the decision would be in the hands of the Supreme Court. But could they really make a dispassionate decision, under the circumstances? And Republicans would be tying themselves into knots explaining why Schiavo was still alive while a (theoretically comatose) RBG isn't. Perhaps a situation like this, should it come to pass, would be the impetus for changing the way justices are appointed.

Q: What if RBG's seat comes open, Donald Trump decides to play 3-D chess, and declares that he will not name his judicial pick until Jan. 21, 2021? This way, all Republicans will realize they need to vote for him or else they lose the chance to have one of their own take RBG's seat. E.P., Tillson, NY

A: Unlikely. First, Trump is not exactly known for his ability to defer gratification. He wants praise right now for replacing RBG with yet another white, middle-aged, conservative Ivy Leaguer. Second, this would also serve as warning to Democrats that the Supreme Court is on the line in the election. And there are more Democrats than there are Republicans.

Q: If Joe Biden wins the White House but Republicans keep the Senate, and especially if Mitch McConnell (R-KY) stays as majority leader, what would prevent him from refusing to hold a vote on any of Biden's nominees? He could claim the election was stolen, that Biden's nominee is too extreme, etc. What recourse would Democrats have in this case? M.V., San Francisco, CA

A: The first thing the Democrats would try to do is pressure vulnerable 2022 senators, like Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), to break ranks, for fear of getting crushed in their reelection bid due to their participation in such an obvious Constitution-subverting scheme.

If that did not work, then the Democrats would file suit in federal court, and would make the argument that while the Constitution does not set a specific timeline for nominees to be considered, there is an expectation of reasonable speed, and four years is not consistent with that expectation. Then, John Roberts would get to decide how he feels about that.

Q: It amazes me that the Kansas Senate seat that you mentioned Thursday has been occupied by a Democrat only two times...ever! Are there any Senate seats that have only ever been held by a single party? If not, what are some other examples of seats that have only been held by a party a few times? What are the longest streaks in single-party control? Is the lack of turnover mainly due to incumbency and long Senate terms or is it primarily about one-party rule? E.W., Skaneateles, NY

A: Quiz Time #1! We think there's a state that fits the parameters of the question much better than any other, as it's only elected one Democrat to the Senate since the Civil War. Make your guess. We'll tell you at the end of the answer.

For now, however, we will point out that there aren't that many good answers to the question. It's generally not because of incumbency, as only a very small number of senators linger for multiple generations. It's largely because there are only some states that have a longstanding legacy of one-party rule, and the parties have evolved so much over time. So, what we're mostly looking for is one-party states that have evolved right along with the parties, going from liberal to conservative at the same time the Republicans did, or conservative to liberal at the same time the Democrats did.

You already know about Kansas' Class 2 Senate seat, which has been occupied by a Democrat only twice, with the last of those occasions coming to an end in 1919. That is the longest current streak of one-party control of one seat in the country. The state's Class 3 seat has been occupied by a Democrat just one time since statehood, although that occasion was a bit more recent, with the seat passing out of Democratic hands in 1939. And now, here are five other seats that have been dominated by one party or the other:

  • West Virginia's Class 1 seat, currently held by Joe Manchin (D), has been in Republican hands just once since 1935.
  • Rhode Island's Class 2 seat, currently held by Jack Reed (D), has been occupied by a Democrat consecutively since 1936.
  • Montana's Class 1 seat, currently held by Jon Tester (D), has been in Republican hands only twice since 1911.
  • Hawaii's Class 3 seat, currently held by Brian Schatz (D), has never been held by a Republican.
  • Nebraska's Class 2 seat, currently held by Ben Sasse (R), has been in Democratic hands just once since 1867.

And finally, we get to a state that has sent 21 Republicans to the Senate, but just 1 Democrat. From 1855 (i.e., the Republicans' first-ever electoral class) to 1975, a period of 120 years, both seats were occupied by Republicans without interruption. That state is...Vermont. Sen. Pat Leahy (D-VT) is the only member of the blue team ever to represent the Green Mountain State in the Senate. His junior colleague, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), is an independent, of course.

Q: If you could re-do Mt. Rushmore, who would you include? I'm thinking of this as an all-time list of the top four Americans. J.O., New Brunswick, NJ

A: If we're talking significance, and we have to cover different eras, and we're stuck with four names, that's actually pretty constraining. Something like this:

  • George Washington, the central figure in the nation's creation
  • Abraham Lincoln, who led the nation through its first great existential crisis
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt, who led the nation through its second great existential crisis
  • Martin Luther King Jr., who insisted that the country live up to a century's worth of broken promises

We don't love that it's got four men and three presidents, but we struggle to think of a compelling alternative to any of these four. We almost put Eleanor Roosevelt in her husband's place, for example, but can that really be justified? Or Rosa Parks in King's slot?

If readers have alternatives, we're happy to run some of them tomorrow.

Q: In 2003, a board game called Redneck Life was published. The description includes this: "Journey through Blue Collar Americana by going into debt to purchase a vehicle, get married, divorced, re-married, purchase a home, and raise a passel of young'uns. Through accidents and brawls, players lose teeth during the game. Buy some back if you the player with the most teeth remaining at the end of the game wins!" To me, this description appears to be a stereotypical representation of an economically disadvantaged group. Does that make it racist? Is the term "hillbilly" racist, and if so does that make "The Beverly Hillbillies" a racist television show? How about "Duck Dynasty", "Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo" and "Hee-Haw"? B.B., St. Louis, MO

A: We would argue that these things are more classist than they are racist, since what is being mocked is the characters' poverty/social class and not their race.

Anyhow, some would argue that since the power dynamics of American history have consistently favored white people, the calculation here is different than if the characterizations were of people of color. Others would argue that the folks being mocked are participating in, and thus giving license to, the use of stereotypes (e.g., "Duck Dynasty").

That said, we don't object to eliminating everything that involves mockery based on physical characteristics.

Q: I am no fan of Donald Trump Jr., nor do I envision myself ever sitting down to read any book he's authored, but I think the mockery he's received for the supposed grammatical goof in the subtitle of his latest book—written as "the Democrat's" (singular possessive) instead of "the Democrats'" (plural possessive)—is a bit undeserved. What if it's intentional? Note, for instance, the title of Douglas Adams' book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which does the same thing. Isn't it possible that he's using "the Democrat" to signify a single person, rather than a group? C.J., Honolulu, HI

A: If the subtitle was correct, it would mean that the book is entirely about Joe Biden, and "the Democrat's" was a reference to him, like if it has been "Joe Biden, and the Delawarean's rise to power." That is possible, but it does not make much sense in context. The book is clearly an attack on all Democrats/liberals, not just one of them. Douglas Adams' punctuation is correct, by contrast, because the book is framed as a (fictional) guide for individual hitchhikers.

There are two reasons why the criticism of Trump Jr. is justified. First, when one spends most of one's time throwing stones, one cannot expect one's own glass house to remain intact. Second, as we pointed out, a person ought to be able to get such a small amount of verbiage correct. But not only did Trump Jr. make one error, he made several. Beyond "Democrat's," "best selling" should have been "best-selling" and, since a book cover is supposed to follow the most formal conventions, "Donald Trump Jr." should have been "Donald Trump, Jr." Two or three mistakes in 20 words is not so good, particularly from someone who constantly brags about how brilliant he and his family are.

Q: I know you have an interest in conspiracy theories. There seems to be a conspiracy theory circulating related to Bill Gates and coronavirus, namely that he will implant microchips in everyone through a COVID-19 vaccine. I noticed that "GATES FOUNDATION" was written in small letters at the base of the faucet in the Anthony Fauci cartoon you ran Wednesday, but I didn't understand why. I know conspiracy theorists like to focus on people with overt power wielding hidden power, but aren't their targets typically foreign, Jewish, or Black, with some actual connection to politics, such as George Soros or Barack Obama? Even if these targets have grown stale, why have conspiracy theorists fixated on Gates and not, for example, Michael Bloomberg—a Jewish billionaire politician who controls a media empire? M.H., Boston, MA

A: Quiz Time #2! There is a person who has been the subject of far and away more conspiracy theories than anyone else (they're dead). Who is it? We'll tell you at the end of the answer.

Anyhow, there is actually a sizable number of conspiracy theories about Michael Bloomberg. Dozens, in fact. There is also a sizable number of conspiracy theories about Bill Gates, who may not be Jewish or foreign or a person of color, but who is rich, associated with technology, and has a well-known political ideology. The reason you are hearing about Gates right now is that one of the many conspiracy theories attached to him happens to dovetail particularly well with some current conspiratorial thinking (i.e., COVID-19 is a fraud perpetrated by liberals in order to advance some nefarious agenda).

And the person who has, without question, been the subject of more conspiracy theories than any other is...Walt Disney.

Today's Presidential Polls

You don't generally see a lot of polling of Alaska, but it would appear that Alaska Survey Research is trying to become the king of Alaska polling, a throne for which there aren't many contenders. Anyhow, the last time Alaska went for a Democrat was 1964, so we're going to take this with a grain of salt or two. (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Alaska 48% 49% Jun 23 Jul 07 Alaska Survey Research

Today's Senate Polls

Al Gross would have liked a couple more reasonably close polls before getting a result like this, so as to get the money flowing. Still, Alaska's tough to poll, and so Gross shouldn't be too depressed, yet. (Z)

State Democrat D % Republican R % Start End Pollster
Alaska Al Gross 40% Dan Sullivan* 53% Jun 23 Jul 07 Alaska Survey Research

* Denotes incumbent

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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