Biden 378
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Ties 16
Trump 144
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Click for Senate
Dem 51
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GOP 49
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  • Strongly Dem (217)
  • Likely Dem (62)
  • Barely Dem (99)
  • Exactly tied (16)
  • Barely GOP (18)
  • Likely GOP (53)
  • Strongly GOP (73)
270 Electoral votes needed to win This date in 2016 2012 2008
New polls: MT
Dem pickups vs. 2016: AZ FL IA MI NC PA TX WI
GOP pickups vs. 2016: (None)
Political Wire logo Not Much of a Horse Race
Fox News Anchors Told to Quarantine
Trump Claims He Gave 60 Minutes His Health Care Plan
White House Signals Defeat In Pandemic
Trump Plans to Fire Heads of CIA, FBI and Defense
Early Voting Already Surpasses 2016 Totals

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Sunday Mailbag
      •  Today's Presidential Polls

Sunday Mailbag

The home stretch is upon us!

2020 Election, the White House

F.S. in Cologne, Germany, writes: Joe Biden is ahead in every state Hillary Clinton won plus Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by fairly comfortable margins. The other swing states (Arizona, Georgia, Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Iowa and Texas) are fairly close. In my opinion, he should focus on the three Midwestern states to secure a majority of the votes in the Electoral College, and not repeat the mistakes of Hillary Clinton, who never visited Wisconsin and probably took a win in these states for granted.

P.M. in Currituck, NC, writes: After reading the question from D.E. from Lancaster (formerly Lititz, a town I know well) about Joe Biden saying "I'm from Scranton," I wanted to reply. I actually am from Scranton (well, Wilkes-Barre, and I lived in the Wyoming Valley for 22 years), and while I understand why Biden claims he's a native, many people from the Valley do not identify with him. In 2016, Luzerne County had one of the largest swings in the country from voting for Democrats consistently for decades to voting for Trump. Many of us feel a tad offended when we hear Biden say that over and over. During the night of the debate, I texted to my mom, aunt, and brother: "I am sick of Joe talking about being from Scranton. We're from Scranton. We don't claim him." All of them agreed.

D.S. in Palo Alto, CA, writes: In your item covering the last debate, you wrote: "[Biden] eventually sees the country pivoting away from its dependence on oil." This should not be seen as a mistake. By now, there can be no doubt either of the wisdom or inevitability of this transition. One might have a more robust way to say it, but the die is cast. Palo Alto's electricity is already "100% sustainable," (in part due to various carbon offsets), and the city has mandated the end of natural gas heating and water heating in new construction, while providing incentives for conversion of existing systems. We are already in the early phases of an exponential transition to electric propulsion. It is probably a good idea for Biden and others to find a phrase that best expresses this now-obvious trend, but, as with Hillary Clinton and the coal mines, being the canary is a laudable thing.

V & Z respond: And while this may upset older voters, particularly in petroleum-rich states, it's worth wondering if it might help Biden with younger voters.

P.K. in Marshalltown, IA, writes: You shared polling information about the four U.S. Congressional races being conducted in Iowa, three of which are trending Democratic, and noted how this could be a bad trend for the President and Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA). Here may be more evidence. We are in the Des Moines television market and constantly see commercials for various Iowa house and senate races sponsored by the Iowa Democratic Party. Lots of them. Most of them are very positive, introducing the candidate (with family members and friends) and allowing them to tout a positive party message. A handful are "contrast" ads, pointing out the foibles of the GOP candidates. This suggests to me the Iowa Democratic Party is flush with cash, as I see virtually nothing positive from the GOP (and fewer overall ads for state races to begin with). Further, the Democrats must feel somewhat confident that this is the way to go (at least in the Des Moines metro area). I guess we'll see soon if either chamber will flip in this state. Is this heaven?

J.F. in Pasadena, CA, writes: I think you missed the point about having Republicans in a Democratic Cabinet. I think the Biden folks genuinely want to make a statement about how certain elements of government should be above partisanship. What about Dan Coats for Director of National Intelligence, to put someone in who the IC recognized as having tried to shield intelligence from political influence? Or how about John Kasich, a GOP luminary who endorsed Biden and supported expanding Medicaid in Ohio under the ACA, and who also has vast budget experience from 16 years in the House as well as state-level executive experience, for Treasury Secretary?

C.B. in Ashburn, VA, writes: A personal story: This past week, I got a haircut from my Asian-American hair stylist at her home. This woman is someone who has a pre-existing condition and she is working out of her home cutting hair to make ends meet. She is a frugal, hard-working immigrant who raised a child on her own and put him through college and she has told me she is about a year away from paying off her home. She is extremely worried about COVID-19 and has not returned to her former employer because of virus concerns and is disgusted with the way COVID has been managed in this country. Sounds like a good candidate for someone who should vote for Joe Biden, right? Nope. She is unlikely to vote and if she does, she is leaning towards Donald Trump. This likely doesn't matter because we live in Virginia, which will go solidly for Biden. She can't stand Kamala Harris because she views her as too wrapped up in identity politics (not that she knows what that is, but that is how we political junkies would describe her aversion) and she thinks Biden is getting paid by China (she can't stand China, being originally from Taiwan). She does not watch Fox News, but she hears the president's lies and we all know Trump uses his megaphone better than anybody.

The point of me telling this story is that I do see the possibility of polls being very wrong once again. Are they biased? I don't think so, but I do think in this social media age, they probably miss a lot of lower-knowledge voters. In other words, us politicos think most people would be appalled at Trump basically admitting he held back information that the virus was dangerous, but many just tune it out. In addition, I know there is a lot of excitement about the early vote, but that vote could simply be cannibalizing votes that normally would have occurred on Election Day.

I will close with one area I do feel optimism though—the white vote. Most polls have shown a fairly substantial, if not massive, erosion of support for Trump among whites, whether among suburban women, college-educated men, and non-college-educated women. To me this is the true great hope I have for the election. And one more personal note: I am married to a suburban white woman who voted for Trump last time, something she strongly regrets. She will be voting Biden this time.

M.S. in Pittsburgh, PA , writes: You wrote yesterday about Texas early voting: "Texas does not provide information on the partisan breakdown of the early votes, so all anyone can do is guess."

This actually confused me at first, because I've been looking at early voting results all week from NBC, and thought for sure that I'd seen party specific data for Texas. So I went and checked and thanks to you I noticed something I'd been missing before. For Texas, the party data says: "Party registration is modeled by TargetSmart from multiple commercial sources." But for other states, like my home state of Pennsylvania, it says "Party registration is publicly available in the state."

Anyway, here's the point I wanted to make. All week I've looked at some states and thought "Wow, this looks fantastic for Democrats!", and those states are Pennsylvania, Florida, Arizona and North Carolina. But other states, I've looked at NBC's early voting data and thought "that doesn't look nearly as good as I would have hoped." Those states are Georgia, Ohio, Texas, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Here's the kicker...I just realized that all the states that have actual publicly available data are the ones that I think look great, while all the ones that are only modeling party registration happen to show early voting results that seem surprisingly disappointing (to a Democrat).

This makes me wonder if there is a blue tsunami coming and that many of these models of early voting in Texas, Georgia, etc. might actually be off by quite a bit. After all, it seems unlikely that the states that have actual real party registration data would all look really, really good for Democrats and the ones that are only modeling the data would all look rather mediocre at best and that all of that modeling would somehow mysteriously be on point. Or to put it another way, it seems very unlikely to me that Democrats are killing it in North Carolina, Florida, Pennsylvania and especially Arizona, but looking comparatively bad in Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio. And we know for a fact they're killing it in those 4 states because those states report actual data. Oh, and "killing it in Pennsylvania" is really an understatement! Just look at early voting by party registration...WOW! 71% Democrats, 20% Republicans and 9% Independents as of the time of this e-mail, with over 1.4 million votes already cast. Do the math, I think Joe Biden might already be up by about 700,000 votes in the Keystone State.

R.E.M. in Brooklyn, NY, writes: Don't get me wrong, I love the Lincoln Project ads. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and all that, but my appreciation for them is like FDR's for Joesph Stalin (to use an extreme analogy): there was a worse menace out there than communism that had to be eradicated first. Indeed, all of the never-Trump Republicans make me throw up a little in my throat, as they were the ones who poured the foundation for Trump and Trumpism: Nixon's racist Southern Strategy, Reagan's "welfare queens," Bush 41's Willie Horton ad, Bush '43's "McCain fathered a black child," and the normalization of the idiocracy represented by Sarah Palin. Now they're a group of people dialing 911 because the house is in flames, but they are the same ones who spent over 50 years flinging lit matches at the drapes.

As for Brad Parscale's Death Star fund-raising machine, I think you're wrong about it not working out. It's working out pretty much the same for Trump as it did for the Emperor.

V & Z respond: We're also pretty sure that we heard the Emperor say that Mexico was going to pay for the Death Star.

D.O in Houston, TX, writes: You wrote that "Brad Parscale compared his fundraising machine to Star Wars' 'Death Star.' But it didn't quite turn out that way." I'd argue you got it exactly backwards. With less than 2 weeks to go, it looks like the Trump 2020 campaign is exactly like the Death Star. It was a behemoth that inspired fear in its opponents at first. In the end, it was overwhelmed by small fighters (Biden's small dollar donors). Curious that Parscale would preemptively compare his campaign to a weapon that killed millions and was eventually destroyed, but I'm sure irony isn't too easy for him to grasp.

C.F. in Fort Wayne, IN, writes: I think you underestimate the legs on these Hunter Biden stories. Yes, they are a crock, but its all that's left for many conspiracy-minded people, so they keep publishing more and more variations of this same story. The volume of stories is staggering compared to anything else I've seen this election cycle, to be honest. It is not a story that will go away so easily yet.

F.G. in Miami, FL, writes: During the debate, Donald Trump said he couldn't see the audience, but was sure he was the least racist person in the room. But guess who he knew was in the room? His children. They were right there in front of him. Is there anything else we need to know about the man, other than the name of the highest state of narcissism that he represents?

E.K. in Brignoles, France, writes: Just a follow-up to your answer to L.J. from The Netherlands: CNN U.S. will take over, as usual, at 10 p.m. Paris time on Nov. 3 (4:00 p.m. ET). Personally, I think the best plan is to stay awake and wait for the results all the way. That's what I have done since 1996, even for the primary and general election debates. But, like (Z), I'm a night owl, and my hours are flexible. I know that's not so easy for everybody. If you can take a day off on Nov. 4, then that's the best advice I could give you, L.J.

2020 Election, the Senate

K.C. in West Islip, NY, writes: Last night, while trying to avoid my own personal mountain of work, I found myself caught up watching highlights of different debates on YouTube, which led me to footage of a debate between Jaime Harrison and Senator Lindsey "Where's my spine?" Graham (R-SC). Though I'm not able to vote in a South Carolina election by virtue of being a New York resident, I had only previously seen one ad by the Harrison campaign (which, if memory serves me, I was made aware of by my favorite political commentary website) and didn't really have an idea of how Mr. Harrison would perform on a debate stage against a seasoned spineless flip-flopper such as Graham.

After watching roughly the first ten minutes, I have just two questions: (1) How can any self respecting South Carolinian not vote for Harrison? While he was speaking directly to the folks of South Carolina about issues that should matter to them, and speaking of trust and being "as good as your word," Graham was babbling and twisting around like someone who could seriously use some guidance from John McCain on how a public servant should behave. And (2) When does Jaime Harrison get elevated to "future presidential candidate" status? I saw, in him, a man of high character and extreme intelligence who can champion the Democratic agenda for a better, stronger America with a combination of force, Southern charm and wisdom the likes of which we really haven't seen in nearly three decades.

We talk of Pete Buttigieg as a fast rising star in the Democratic Party (in fact, he was the first person you cited in your response to D.H. from Boulder yesterday), and I wholeheartedly agree that Mayor Pete will definitely be someone in the conversation to become President Pete sometime in the next decade or two. But, the more I see of Harrison, the more I envision a candidate who could absolutely dominate an electoral map, especially considering the apparent shift of states like Arizona, Texas, Georgia and North Carolina into purple territory.

At this point I would encourage anyone who wants to throw their support behind a candidate from outside of their state to volunteer this last week getting out the vote for Harrison, and to definitely not sleep on him as someone to pay attention to down the line.

J.C. in Mullinville, KS, writes: As a voting Kansan, I would strongly disagree with your assertion that Roger Marshall (R) has no scandals in his past. The story of him trying to run over a person with his car is still widely talked about and is considerably hurting his chances. There's a reason why, although he remains mostly ahead, he is not winning by a landslide, like most previous GOP nominees for Senate from our state.

H.H. in Anchorage, AK, writes: We're cord cutters, so broadcast ads are only hitting us in bits and pieces on the radio while driving. However Al Gross's (I) Alaska Senate campaign seems to have the resources it needs for a strong ground game.

We moved to Alaska four months ago, so there's no good data showing if we reliably vote. We've had four canvasser visits in a week and I get a call from "Dr. Al's" campaign about every other day. The turnout operation is clearly in full swing.

S.T., Philadelphia, PA, writes: Looking at Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) hands, I am struck by their striking similarity to photos of "COVID toes." Chillblains, discoloration, and lesions on skin—especially on extremities—is a very common side effect of COVID-19. It is one of the standard symptoms that contact tracers ask about.

J.F. in Houston, TX, writes: See the plot of "Finian's Rainbow": Someone standing by accident near the leprechaun's pot-of-gold wishes that a racist Southern senator would turn black, and has his wish fulfilled.

B.P. in Pensacola, FL, writes: It is well established that Mitch McConnell has been flirting with the dark forces in the world for a long time. Perhaps he just got a little too close to a horcrux? Remember what happened to Dumbledore's hand after his contact with a horcrux:

The Harry Potter character's
hand is black and withered

V & Z respond: Do you think "Anonymous," who wrote the op-ed and the book, could be...Severus Snape?

M.C. in Indianapolis, IN, writes: Maybe Mitch got with Brad Pitt and Edward Norton and joined Fight Club. That would explain why he wouldn't talk about it; remember rule #1 about Fight Club.

Voter Reports

T.I. in Baltimore, MD, writes: My mother, 102, is confined to a nursing home in Illinois. She votes absentee, of course (a stroke in 2017 has limited her mobility, but she's very alert). Although admitting to weakening, she voted and hopes "to make it to see the results in November."

Her ballot was rejected for signature issues. The poll worker (?) said the "O" in her last name was different than when she last registered (1980?). The ballot was returned and she was able to have her signature notarized and then the ballot was accepted.

At 102, all this was a pain but...she voted. And she is very proud to have done so.

Just a little FYI to those who get complacent.

The author's mother is wearing
a hospital-type gown with an 'I Voted' sticker.

V & Z respond: Please do pass along our best wishes to your mother, and tell her she's an inspiration.

J.W. in Indianapolis, IN, writes: I voted in Indianapolis today. I arrived at 9:55; the polls opened at 10:00. The location on my side of town has a tiny parking lot in a residential area, so I didn't manage to get in line until 10:35. I finished voting at 3:20, and made it back to my car at 3:25. So just waiting was 4 hours and 50 minutes, and the whole process from arrival to departure took 5 hours and 30 minutes.

Indiana is one of 7 states that did not make it easier to vote during the pandemic. In fact, they reduced early voting in blue counties prior to the 2018 cycle, so even setting COVID aside, this process would have been more difficult than it was in 2016. In light of this, the most interesting part of my day came 80% of the way through the process, when I passed two people who were encouraging those of us in the queue to re-elect a Republican state senator. I don't imagine that they and I would see eye to eye on much politically, but I have to admit that I admire their moxie. I can't imagine having the balls that it must take to approach someone who has been waiting in line for four hours (and has another hour to go) and asking for them to vote for a man who is at the very least complicit in creating that wait in the first place.

My parents live one county to my west. I talked to my dad about his early voting plans, which led to the following comparison: My county has 5 early voting sites for a population of 965,000 people, of which 62.7% are white (that's diverse in Indiana) and 17.3% are under the poverty line. His county has 6 locations for 170,000 people, of which 90.1% are white and 5.7% are under the poverty line. I wonder if that has anything to do with the discrepancy?

D.B. in Amsterdam, Netherlands, writes: I am an overseas voter originally from Indiana. I am watching on the first days of early voting as lines are easily 3-4 hours long in the Indianapolis area. Before I moved overseas I worked as a poll worker every year and never saw a wait of more than a few minutes. This tells me there is voter turnout on a scale that has never been imagined. I don't think this is because of energized Trump voters, but rather due to energized anti-Trump voters. I think we are going to see a landslide election that hasn't been seen since Ronald Reagan's in win 1984. This isn't showing up in polls because they don't have the ability to consider highly unusual circumstances like this. I believe the end result is going to be a massive win for Joe Biden, one that Donald Trump cannot overcome with various voting day shenanigans.

D.E. in Lancaster, PA, writes: In last Sunday's mailbag, I said that Pennsylvania has early voting and that I was planning to vote on Friday, Oct. 23. Well your chart a few weeks ago was correct and I was wrong—come to find out the state does not have early voting. Instead, it allows you for two weeks before the election to go to county registrars and request your mail-in ballot, fill it out and drop it off at the same location that same day. Hmm, that sounds suspiciously like early voting. But hey, you say pootahtoe and I say patahtoe. Whatever you want to call it, I got to vote! Just a heads-up to other "early voters" in Pennsylvania that you should request a mail-in ballot, if you go that route, and not an absentee one.

It was a nice-size line and I waited about 90 minutes. The staff was super helpful and were working at a whirlwind pace, so applause to them! There were people of all age ranges and all socio-economic groups waiting to vote; and I didn't see anyone become discouraged due to the length of the line and leave. Several people in line complained that they had been waiting for the mail to deliver their ballot, but even though they had requested it weeks ago it still hadn't arrived. Still they seemed just as determined to vote—so take that Louis DeJoy and your postal ratf**kery! A staff member advised the line to please vote today and not to put any faith in the post office. Masks were universal but to seal the envelopes required a lot of counterproductive licking. I wouldn't even dare to begin to guess which candidate had the majority of the votes, though one elderly lady declared she had voted for Trump but had been confused by the instructions and cast a naked ballot—take that Republicans and your voter suppression methods! Still, the staff helped her resolve the situation and her accurate vote was delivered. All in all a very pleasant experience, although I admit that while there were a few Black voters in line, there were not really fully represented. That said, it was a work day during the afternoon, which goes to show how preventive to participation our election system is, especially to working-class Black voters.

Afterwards, I took a little joy ride to the west of Lancaster for a little bit of yard-sign polling. My tally was about 10 Biden signs to 2 Trump ones. Again I saw yards with clusters of local Republican candidates but with no Trump signs. Either the signs are being vandalized or there's going to be a lot of split tickets to count. Or perhaps the household is simply embarrassed by their candidate. Whichever the case, each scenario speaks to the destructive polarizing figure that Trump has cut across our political landscape, and for what? I also listen to some local radio; the Biden ads were at least one for every commercial break and were new ads featuring a line from Biden from last night's debate: "I will be an American president." I did not hear a single Trump ad during the time listening. Maybe I should locate a Magic Eight Ball and consult that.

So now the waiting begins!

R.H. in Macungie, PA, writes: Lehigh County, Pennsylvania, mail-in-voting update: My wife, son and I deposited our ballots in the drop box at the county election office on Oct. 15. Our neighbor and his wife took their ballots to the Macungie Post Office on Oct. 16. All of these ballots were acknowledged online as "vote recorded" on Oct. 20 except our neighbor's wife, whose ballot was acknowledged online on Oct. 21. Looks like the USPS handled our neighbors' two ballots fairly expeditiously. Most voters will be reluctant to rely on the mail this coming week, so I don't think many ballots will be received by the county after Nov. 3, making the court case allowing votes to be counted if received by Nov. 6 moot unless the vote is really close.

S.G. in Newark, NJ, writes: New Jersey automatically sent a mail-in ballot to every registered voter. Essex County, NJ, put an official dropbox in each of the county's 22 cities and towns, usually right in front of the police station. My spouse and I dropped our ballots in the closest box (no need to use the box in one's own town) on Oct. 21. This morning (Oct. 23), we checked the handy-dandy website maintained by the New Jersey Division of Elections and confirmed that our ballots were received on Oct. 22. We will watch to confirm when our ballots are accepted. No muss, no fuss.

S.S. in West Hollywood, CA, writes: Here in California you can use a dropbox or mailbox and know your vote was counted, or if there's a problem, by tracking your vote-by-mail ballot with "BallotTrax, Where's My Ballot?". You'll receive notifications by e-mail, SMS (text), or voice call when your vote-by-mail ballot is mailed, received, and counted.

I used a dropbox last Tuesday and received a text and e-mail Thursday morning letting me know my ballot arrived and will be counted. (Even with BallotTrax, I don't recommend mailing it this close to the election.)

Unfortunately, it's not as widely publicized as I would hope. I learned about it from a friend's Facebook post. California residents can sign-up at

I know some other states are also using BallotTrax, so I suggest readers check with their Secretary of State or whomever is running your election.

P.F. in Fairbanks, AK, writes: I'm really glad you published the letter from C.B. in Atlanta. Alaska did multilingual "I Voted" stickers for the 2016 or 2018 primaries (who can remember that far back anymore?), and they featured local art with "I Voted" in several indigenous languages. They were a big hit. It looks like they may be back this year with different art.

K.H. in Albuquerque, NM, writes: Regarding the question from J.E. in Boone about armed individuals or groups showing up at polling places, we've already had two incidents in Albuquerque. However, I've not heard of anything happening since.

As you pointed out, there are too many polling places open for too many hours for vigilantes to maintain a presence. In one instance, an election official was able to disperse the Trump supporters peacefully. In the other case, two Bernalillo county sheriff patrol cars responded and the interference ended.

New Mexico allows concealed carry, so it is very possible that at least some of these people had weapons. Potential voters who left the scene of what could have been a violent confrontation may have returned later, but no one knows. Considering that there was gunfire and a person wounded during a protest at a Don Juan de Oñate statue earlier this year, discretion seems warranted. As noted in the article, Common Cause and the American Civil Liberties Union have set up hotlines for reporting voting irregularities.

J.Q. in Kalamazoo, MI, writes: As the chair of a polling site, I was a little disappointed by your closing comments about what to wear to the polls, particularly suggesting the t-shirt-you-can-cover-up trick. Please don't treat it like a game to see what you can get away with. November 3 is probably going to be an 18-hour work shift for me, after what I assume will be a sleepless night, spent wearing a mask and face shield and using lots of hand sanitizer, as I help several hundred strangers exercise their right to vote, taking responsibility that procedures are followed so that those votes are counted (and can possibly be recounted; I'm in Michigan), at the risk of my own life, for a little better than minimum wage while not getting paid for my regular job that day. I don't want to have to referee the First Amendment for people while I'm at it.

Every election, there are people who use the occasion as an opportunity to use the poll workers as extras in their political theater—protesting the fact that they're asked to show ID, complaining about the rules for partisan primaries, one thing or another. In August, I had to deal with complaints that either: (1) we were taking annoying COVID precautions, or (2) we weren't taking enough COVID precautions. Poll workers don't make the rules; we just get the task of carrying them out. The right to petition the state for redress of grievances doesn't mean us. The only "statement" made by people like these is "I'm a self-centered jerk who doesn't care that I'm making someone else's life difficult." Your vote is far louder than your clothing, and wearing a plain red baseball cap or a blue-wave t-shirt isn't going to accomplish will just give someone like me one more stress to deal with. Just...don't. Please.

Your comments also make it sound like poll workers are the problem. More likely it will be a complaint from another voter, or a self-appointed "poll watcher" who'll drag us away from helping voters to deal with it. Most of us sitting behind the table aren't there because we want to disenfranchise people. We want you to vote, and we're there to make that possible. Please don't make that harder for us.

V & Z respond: We certainly didn't intend to besmirch civic-minded folks like you. Ultimately, it seems that you are on the same page as us—don't create needless headaches with what you wear to the polling place. Our point was that if it is legal to wear a partisan T-shirt in your state and you want to do it, go ahead, but if a poll worker challenges it, just be prepared to cover it up with a jacket and don't call the ACLU and make 100 people in line wait another hour just to make your point.

Still More Sign Polls

D.R. in Phoenix, AZ, writes: You and your readers might like this: An art installation of campaign signs for everyone who lost a presidential election.

V & Z respond: Impressive. Apparently, Democratic Civil War generals really like purple and yellow.

S.D.R. in Garner N.C., writes: There has been much discussion of yard signs, and some discussion of ostentatiously large yard signs, over the past few weeks. With that in mind I couldn't resist sharing this picture of two next door neighbors who I figure either love arguing politics with each other or are no longer on speaking terms with one another:

One house has a giant Trump/Pence
sign and the other has a giant Biden/Harris sign

V & Z respond: We wonder what each house gives out to kids on Halloween.

A.B. in Blacklick, OH, writes: I live in a different part of central Ohio now, but I often get back to my hometown which is perennially one of those bedrock Republican bedroom suburbs around the heavily Democratic urban core of Columbus. That kind of area that propelled John Kasich and is currently sending Steve Stivers to Congress. To my knowledge, they haven't had a Democratic mayor in my hometown going back to the 1970s.

There are a few areas around there that went marginally to Hillary Clinton 4 years ago according to the really nice detailed breakdown that The New York Times did on their website. But the majority were in the mid 50's to mid 60's to Donald Trump. I had the last two Fridays off from work and decided to drive around in the areas that went for Trump in 2016. I went through a total of 12 subdivisions and counted up all of the signs (or, for a large number of the Trump supporters, flags) for either campaign. Of the 12, Trump only came out ahead in two of them and was tied in two others, while Biden had the remaining eight. In all, the final tally was Biden 100, Trump 67 (and 1 for Jo Jorgenson). If that is any indication, that seems confirmation of his problems in the suburbs that everyone has been talking about.

S.S. in Durham, NC, writes: Although this is purely anecdotal, Donald Trump's support in the Chapel Hill-Raleigh-Durham Research Triangle area appears to be pretty strong when looking at yard signs alone. A good portion of the affluent suburban voters you described appear to actually back Trump. Yard signs favor Trump by at least a 3:1 ratio from what I've seen driving around the Triangle. I even see Trump signs in Durham, of all places.

I see many more Trump signs than I did in 2016. It could also just be a really vocal minority, but who knows? In 2016, Clinton signs were almost non existent and I do see many Biden signs this time around.

Also, I don't see the same voting enthusiasm I saw from the first day or two of early voting. Seems like we are going to have an enthusiasm/turn out problem again. History repeats itself.

J.A. in Austin, TX, writes: "Sign survey" results from three locations in Texas.

My dad, a Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) supporter who until a couple of weeks ago was still considering voting third-party (a luxury often afforded Texas residents), recently toured the neighborhoods around his home and noticed two things. First, the reduction in Trump signs in his area, similar to reports by others. But, as a frequent third-party voter, he also noticed homes that in prior cycles had sported Green Party signage were now displaying Biden signs, which matches polling this year that says third-party support is pretty low this cycle.

My wife and I did a road trip through some rural areas that are (not unexpectedly) Donald Trump-leaning. We saw more than one Trump billboard, including one that had signs facing both directions and had a crane parked next to it with a huge American flag suspended over the billboards. We did find some Joe Biden yard-signage support, though Trump led about 5-to-1. But I noticed that, while the Biden supporters displayed more typical signage, the Trump supporters more often had huge signs and/or Trump flags. These are not "shy" Trump voters, but it feels a lot like they are over-compensating.

But this reduction of typical Trump signage has me thinking. In response to the second letter last Saturday, I suspect that the likely more proper term (at least in regard to sign count) may be "weak supporter" rather than "shy supporter." Someone who isn't enthusiastic about supporting Trump may not have a sign, but if they just can't bring themselves to vote for someone with a "D" after their name, may still pull the lever for Trump. In our own suburban neighborhood, two of the homes that have had signage supporting the Republican presidential candidate in prior cycles have no signs this year, but at least one of them (whose prior signage included some fairly offensive anti-marriage equality messaging) I just can't imagine voting for Biden. They will either stay home, or they will vote Trump. I would also expect them, should they be surveyed, to either state their intention to vote Trump, or to claim they are "undecided" if they really are "shy" about their vote preference. If I'm right, then a significant portion of the "undecideds," as few as they are, may again go Trump, this time because they were already inclined that way, weakly.

E.S. in Maine, NY, writes: Here in upstate New York (Near Binghamton), I see fewer signs for Donny than four years ago, and many more for Joe Biden than there were for Hillary Clinton. I do see the same thing as my neighbor who wrote in last week does: Many more signs for our contested congressional race without signs for Donny. My four Biden signs (we have 1200+ feet of road frontage) are more that the Donny signs on the four miles of our road coming from town. Our county went for Donny 48,000 to 45,000 in 2016, but I suspect it will be reversed this year. We do have the occasional cult member with 10 signs and four flags for Donny, but that is very rare.

A.S. in Renton, WA, writes: Speaking of yard signs, we had a long discussion in our house about the dialectic. Of course we posted a BLM sign, but I've also had great interactions with local law enforcement, and a friend's spouse is a police officer. I have sat with the stress and fear my friend shares with all those whose partners engage in life-threatening work. Finally, my artistic, purity-test teenager agreed to repaint my police-support sign into the one you see in the picture. (This is the one time I've been glad that I live in a place where the people are passive-aggressive. I've been mildly ghosted by a few—thanked by more!—but no one has defaced or stolen my signs.)

One sign supports Black
Lives Matter, the other is rainbow-colored and thanks first responders

Legal Affairs

A.R. in Los Angeles, CA, writes: P.D. in Memphis wrote: "Knowing that not only do politicians fight to appoint judges at every level of the federal court system, but that said judges intend to repay their appointers whenever possible, is a necessary item for understanding how far down the road to banana republic we've gone."

I agree, insofar as we should root out those judges who are not truly independent but who use their position to advance their political ideology. This is why it's problematic for sites like this to indiscriminately identify a judge and who appointed them without further context in the course of discussing a controversial case. The first problem is in the selection of cases that are discussed—there is a tendency to only highlight those cases where there is an appearance that the judge has ruled in a partisan way. Cases where the decisions are seen as fair or non-controversial are ignored, so right off the bat the sample is skewed. As an example, there are numerous state and federal court rulings on elections cases that get no mention because, while the outcome is just as significant and impactful, the decisions are either not seen as partisan or don't fit the narrative of a biased judiciary.

The second problem is that only providing the judge's name and who appointed them tells us nothing about whether the judge has ruled unfairly in a particular case or whether there is a history of partisan rulings. I applaud E-V for the times when they have provided some context, such as with Neomi Rao, whose decisions are so ideologically-driven that she may as well be a political operative. For other appeals court and lower court judges, it's often much more complicated.

Finally, there is the problem that no one bothers to read the opinion itself. There is a tendency to assume that if a ruling favors a political party, and the judge was appointed by a member of that party, that the decision must have been based solely on political considerations. This is an assumption that everyone who is committed to democracy and the rule of law must immediately disabuse themselves of. In order to root out those justices who are abusing their power, we cannot fall victim to the "everyone does it" mentality. Only by doing the work of reading the opinion and researching other opinions of that same judge can an informed judgment be made. Anything else is lazy and counter-productive and misleading.

We can confidently say that Donald Trump has made a concerted effort to stack the courts with right-wing ideologues with a political agenda, but even his appointees are not uniformly partisan and we should not paint them all with the same brush simply because they might have ruled favorably to Trump. It could also be that the outcome was consistent with the facts and the law. So, I would suggest that when (Z) or (V) summarizes a case, if they identify the judge and the political party of their appointer (is that a word?), they should also include an asterisk depending on whether this judge has a history of ruling based on political considerations or whether the opinion itself raises concerns of a partisan nature.

J.L. in Paterson, NJ, writes: You mention the possibility of a radical overhaul of the Supreme Court. One plan that deserves more attention is for a Democratic trifecta to take advantage of the power under Article III of the Constitution to delineate the Court's jurisdiction. The Court has original jurisdiction of a limited class of cases, such as suits between states. Most of what it does is its appellate jurisdiction, which it is granted "with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make."

Cases in which a litigant wants the Court to hear an appeal are far more numerous today than they were in 1869, when the current nine-member Court was established. Thus, even aside from the Republicans' success in stacking the Court, there's a nonpartisan reason to improve the appellate process. The Democrats wouldn't need to amend the Constitution (though they would need to use a Senate majority to end the filibuster) to establish a National Court of Appeals, consisting of all the current Supreme Court justices plus a few dozen others. The NCA, sitting in panels of seven, would hear appeals from all the lower courts (state and federal). There would be no further appeal from its decisions. From time to time, the NCA judges who were also on the Supreme Court would meet separately to hear original-jurisdiction cases, but the Supreme Court's appellate jurisdiction would be abolished.

You correctly point out that Presidents lean toward younger candidates for lifetime appointments. That would be true of the NCA. Nevertheless, I hope an exception would be made to give a seat to Merrick Garland, just as a big "f**k you" to the Republican hypocrites in the Senate.

R.H.D. in Webster, NY, writes: Amy Coney Barrett's pending confirmation means a third of the Supreme Court will be made up of appointments made by Donald Trump, and it all happened in one term. This is the nightmare the Democrats and the left are facing because unless something drastic happens to any of these three (death, scandal, abducted by aliens in an UFO), they will be there for a long time.

While the Democrats have been pondering packing the Court to balance things out, and to strike back for two of these appointments being done under dubious circumstances, I would suggest an easier route for them: Take and keep the Senate!

That's where judicial appointments are won and lost. At the very least, a Republican president would have to select someone moderate enough to get approval. Or Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) could extract revenge by playing hardball and stalling the nominee just like was done to Merrick Garland. If it's a Democrat in the White House, then it's all systems go, as they can pick the next RBG. This also applies to lower levels of the federal court system. A Democratic-controlled Congress and White House could also limit the Court's powers granted under the Constitution. Court packing, while tempting, shouldn't be considered unless it has majority support of the American people.

Should the Democrats win everything in this election, they need to gently ask Stephen Breyer to please retire next year, as he is now 82. They rolled the dice that RBG could hold on until January, and it came up snake eyes. Things can change again in the 2022 midterms. As we've seen, the GOP seizes on any opportunity presented to them, optics and politics be damned.

The looming 6-3 conservative majority on the Court should be a lesson that control of the Senate matters. The Democrats need to do all they can to seize it and then keep it for dear life.

J.C. in Binan, Laguna, Philippines, writes: I appreciated that you specified that Amy Coney Barrett's nomination could lead to a decline in legal abortions. Abortion rates actually increase in countries where it is illegal. It is for this reason that I am both pro-Choice and pro-Life. I believe "life begins at conception," and the best way to reduce abortions is to give women a right to choose. But further, since women continue to seek abortion at the same rate (or greater) when it is illegal, this points to another consequence of Red States making abortion illegal (to the poor): a massive spike in women's deaths. And if/when this happens, I predict the GOP to not be long for this Earth. Barring a Handmaid Nation.

C.L. in Boulder, CO, writes: You noted that "[Turning down a nomination to the US Supreme Court] has happened five times." None other than Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in My Own Words: "In 1853, President Millard Fillmore nominated [Judah] Benjamin to become an Associate Justice of the United State Supreme Court." Benjamin would have been the first Jewish member of the Court, preceding Brandeis by 63 years, but he preferred to remain in the U.S. Senate. "Had Benjamin accepted the Supreme Court post, his service likely would have been brief...In 1861, in the wake of Louisiana's secession from the Union, Benjamin resigned his Senate seat."

V & Z respond: We went back and rewrote that answer to be a little clearer, in part because the source we originally used was imprecise in its verbiage. There are actually seven instances, and all of them involve the candidate being formally nominated and approved, and then declining the seat. If we consider additional examples where someone was offered a seat and declined prior to being nominated (including the case of Benjamin) then the list would expand to multiple dozens of names.

M.S. in Goodyear, AZ , writes: Your sidebar discussion of originalist/textualist arguments in Court decisions as part of "About That Pennsylvania Decision..." touches on the real problem without explaining exactly what you mean. One of the judicial rules of interpretation followed by Courts is that, faced with multiple possibilities, preference must be given to an interpretation that takes into account all the words in a Constitutional provision, statute, or rule. Essentially, there is a presumption that the drafters included the word(s) because they thought they added meaning and did not include superfluous verbiage. This rule of interpretation should be perfectly comfortable for any originalist/textualist.

Looking at the Heller decision, Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, essentially determined that the "well-regulated militia" clause of the Second Amendment was a "dependent clause" and had no meaning, thereby ignoring the "all words have meaning" rule of interpretation. He gave no explanation and no other Justice called him on it. Later, in the McDonald case no one raised this matter. I think the real meaning of originalism/textualism is, "When interpreting any text, one is limited to what the text says and what it meant to the drafters, except when that conflicts with the result desired by the Judge/Justice writing the decision."

M.S. in Buxton, UK, writes: I am not a legal originalist. However, it's only fair to state the doctrine accurately, and in your comments Wednesday you didn't do so.

First of all: the originalists don't interpret the entire Constitution according to what it (purportedly) meant in 1789. They know the original document had "screw-ups" that had to be corrected in amendments. But they interpret each amendment according to what it (purportedly) meant at the time it was ratified. So, the 14th Amendment is interpreted according to what it meant in 1868. That, of course, includes any provisions of the original document that the amendment altered. So, although originalism is bad, it isn't quite as stupid as you portray.

Secondly: the originalists absolutely acknowledge that there are open questions that originalism cannot answer. The Framers didn't always agree, and there were many questions they didn't think about at all. But there are some questions that originalism does answer clearly, albeit not the way I would want it to.

For instance, the Fourteenth Amendment says that "No State shall...deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." To an originalist, this pretty clearly means that the states expected the death penalty to remain constitutional. Nobody at the time of ratification said, "The great thing about this amendment is that we will no longer have a death penalty." That idea came much, much later. Even those who oppose the death penalty now concede that it was Constitutional in 1868. Their views rely on continually evolving standards of decency. Originalists believe that if standards have evolved, it is up to the states to say so, not judges.

Where you are correct, is that where there is ambiguity, so-called originalists often use their doctrine as "cover" for what are really politically-motivated decisions.

Graduating the Electoral College

T.D. in Berkeley, CA, writes: In your answer to J.W. in Slingerlands, who asked about leveling the Electoral College playing field, you suggested adjusting the number of seats in the house to dilute overrepresentation of small states.

I ran the numbers, and it doesn't help. If there were 10,000 seats in the House (your hypothetical), the result of the 2016 election would have been 5,700 electoral votes for the GOP candidate and 4,403 for the Democrat, all other things being equal.

The culprit is winner-take-all, not unbalanced representation. Even making the vote strictly along population lines (that is, 1 EV per person and senators don't count extra), but still awarding each state's votes in a winner-take-all manner, would have given the GOP candidate a 173,763,090 to 134,982,448 win.

The only current suggestion that has any chance of changing the balance is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. Whether that might be achievable is a question beyond my competence.

V & Z respond: Interesting point. Now here's your homework assignment. Suppose all states allocated EVs by CD as do Maine and Nebraska. How would that have worked in 2016 with (1) 435 representatives and (2) 10,000 representatives?

R.D. in Austin, TX, writes: The difference in terms of the ratio of population to electoral votes that helped the 2016 Donald Trump victory is well documented. The University of Michigan has a reapportionment calculator where you can adjust the values for state population as well as the number of seats in the House. When I increased the number from 435 to 735 seats, states Donald Trump won in 2016 gained 190 seats, while the Hillary Clinton states gained 110. The max size allowed for Congress using this tool was 999 seats in the House. When using this value, Clinton only picked up 213 additional out of the 564 additional seats. This is because the way the system calculates apportionment; California did not get near the boost in seats that states like New York, Illinois, Texas or Florida did.

Rural Blues

D.S. in Johnstown, PA, writes: You wrote: "[T]here aren't many rural areas in the U.S. that are blue, but in the ones that are, you tend to find a lot of sandal-wearing, granola-eating, Prius-driving latter-day hippies."

I have to disagree. In the southeast, the "Black Belt" is a reliably blue, largely Black rural area stretching from Virginia to Arkansas. Out west, and also in the Dakotas, there are several dark blue regions, most of which happen to correspond to Indian Reservations. In addition, some blue areas in south Texas exist, and can be easily seen on precinct-level maps; these regions have a large Latino population.

In blue rural areas, you tend to see a lot of deliberately impoverished people of color. The examples you provided are the exception rather than the rule.

L.M. in Pensacola, FL, writes: I'll add three additional rural regions in the U.S that consistently vote blue: The Delta region of west Mississippi, East Arkansas, and northeast Louisiana; the Black Belt of Alabama; and the counties along the Lower Rio Grande Valley in Texas.

Unlike the other areas named, where aging hippies are the primary demographic, African-Americans who are the ancestors of those formerly enslaved serve as the core of the population. Except in Texas, where the population is Mexican-American.

Even a fourth area exists. Most counties which are tribal reservations are quite rural, and deep blue.

D.R. in Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska, writes: Rural Alaska is reliably blue. Urban Anchorage and Fairbanks, on the other hand, tend to support Republicans.

M.M. in San Diego, CA, writes: Latter-day hippies? Kudos for another great coinage. Now I just need to track down the nearest congregation of the Church of LDH...


E.W. in Skaneateles, NY, writes: In case you have not seen it, I highly recommend this series of blog posts about history, psychology, society, and politics (along with the website as a whole).

The series has 10 "chapters" total, accompanied by many humorous illustrations, and pulls no punches. It covers a wide array of subjects, all focused on delving into why we have become so partisan and tribal recently. You can skip to the end and read the two most recent postings ("Political Disneyland" and "A Sick Giant") that focus more on the origins of political partisanship and still get most of it, though in the earlier chapters the author does introduce some of his own terms ("Emergence Tower," "giants," "Higher vs. Primitive Minds," "Thought Piles," "Speech Curves," "Thinking Ladders") so those are well worth reading too. I thought of the series because the author also divides both political parties along a dimension separate from the traditional left-vs.-right divide. In each party and in the center, he talks about "Higher Rung" political thinkers who care about evidence and the marketplace of ideas vs. the "Lower Rung" political partisans who are zealots and just care about beating the other side. It is a hilarious and informative read!

W.S. in Austin, TX, writes: You wrote: "Forgive us for our strong words, but several of the right-wing columnists that the Post uses to give 'balance' to its op-ed pages are just propagandists who do nothing but repeat Republican talking points. Hugh Hewitt is the worst, but Marc Thiessen is not far behind."

Since I have reason to believe Zenger's pop-culture youth resembles mine, I note for your edification that Hewitt's crazed smile is eerily similar to that of Joker venom victims:

Hugh Hewitt's smile really
does look like the vacant, forced smile of a victim of the Joker

This being the case, his manifest insanity may actually not be his fault.

However, I still object to your words. Instead of calling Hewitt a "propagandist," it would be fairer to call him an "a**hole."

V & Z respond: Can't he be both?

B.L. in Hudson, NY, writes: In the item on the final debate, (Z) wrote that Trump: "also needed Biden to pull a Bill Buckner, but instead the Democrat hit a solid double."

I am compelled to write and defend the honor of one of my favorite baseball players, who tragically died just last year. Bill Buckner is too often remembered only for one error he made during the 1986 World Series, late in his career when he had grown old and rickety, and your comment contributes to that unfair legacy.

In his early years, Buckner was an outstanding fielder (mostly left field, when I became a fan) for my Dodgers. His leaping, sliding, and diving catches helped save a number of games. When he was traded to the Cubs prior to the 1977 season, it about broke my poor heart.

Now, we find him used as a punch line for one unfortunate play. Your statement seems to imply that he didn't hit many doubles. In fact, Bill Buckner hit about 500 doubles in his major league career. On top of that, he rarely struck out.

As Joe Biden might so eloquently put it, "C'mon!"

V & Z respond: A fine player for a long time, but as Scott Norwood, Ralph Branca, Fred Merkle, Chris Webber, Leon Lett, and Andres Escobar can attest, a high-profile screwup can completely outshine an otherwise excellent career. The most regrettable part is that Buckner shouldn't even have been on the field for that play; Red Sox manager John McNamara should have pulled him for a defensive replacement.

O.R. in Milan, Italy, writes: The message accompanying the photo of the "Bye Don" vanity plate belonging to E.T. in Silver Spring, MD, left a bitter taste in my mouth. They explain that "it took almost five months for [the plates] to arrive because Maryland Correctional Enterprises had to temporarily suspend production due to COVID-19 concerns."

May I suggest they watch this episode of Last Week Tonight, which predates the pandemic? Inmates are paid $0.63/hour for their labor, and that's just an average, the lower limit being nothing.

Perhaps readers of this site will appreciate learning about the correctional industry.

V & Z respond: Most Americans do not realize that the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery, specifically exempts convicts from its terms.

M.B. in Kilmarnock, VA , writes: Regarding Dr. Steve Turley of anti-Biden video "fame": I could tell you stories of him as an adolescent! He was my student in 10th grade English...twice! And in a senior year course as well. My then-husband and I considered him a "friend" in the way special students can be.

I am abashed that the values we modeled have turned out to be less of an example to emulate than we had hoped. I actually feel embarrassed to admit to having mentored him. He was one hell of an amazing classical guitarist, though!

Today's Presidential Polls

If Trump really is leading in Montana by only four points, that's a bad sign for him. That would be a similar margin to 2008, the only time in recent memory a Democrat has kept it close. Barack Obama and his running mate, a fellow named Biden, won that election by nearly 200 EVs. (Z)

State Biden Trump Start End Pollster
Montana 46% 50% Oct 15 Oct 18 RMG Research

Click on a state name for a graph of its polling history.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct24 Saturday Q&A
Oct24 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct24 Today's Senate Polls
Oct23 Veni, Vidi, Bitchy
Oct23 New Study: 130,000 Americans Dead Unnecessarily
Oct23 Trump Releases "60 Minutes" Interview
Oct23 And So It Begins?
Oct23 (Don't) Speak to the Hand
Oct23 My Blue...Iowa?
Oct23 COVID Diaries: It's the Stupid Economy
Oct23 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct23 Today's Senate Polls
Oct22 Obama Will Campaign for Biden
Oct22 Trump's Campaign Is Short of Cash
Oct22 USPS Ordered Its Internal Police to Stand Down
Oct22 It Ain't Over 'Til It's Over
Oct22 Biden Will Consider Putting Republicans in His Cabinet
Oct22 Poll: Americans Want a $2 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Bill
Oct22 Frank Luntz Blasts Trump
Oct22 The South Will Rise Again
Oct22 Maybe The Divide in Politics Isn't Democrats vs. Republicans
Oct22 McGrath's Supporters Are Helping a Libertarian
Oct22 House Districts Most Likely to Flip
Oct22 State Legislatures Most Likely to Flip
Oct22 Salamanders and Politics
Oct22 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct22 Today's Senate Polls
Oct21 Do As I Say, Not As I Do
Oct21 Trump Stomps Out of "60 Minutes" Interview
Oct21 About That Pennsylvania Decision...
Oct21 DeJoy Appears to Be Winning
Oct21 If You're Voting in Person, Dress Appropriately
Oct21 Still More Funny Feelings
Oct21 Bloomberg Delivers in Florida
Oct21 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct21 Today's Senate Polls
Oct20 Trumpworld Fails to Deliver A Game Changer
Oct20 This Week's Debate Will Have a Partial Kill Switch on the Microphones
Oct20 Fox News Could End Up Hurting Trump
Oct20 SCOTUS Allows Late-Arriving Pennsylvania Ballots to Count
Oct20 Trump's Got Trouble in Florida...
Oct20 ...and in NE-02, Too
Oct20 Cornyn Distances Himself from Trump
Oct20 Today's Presidential Polls
Oct20 Today's Senate Polls
Oct19 The State of the Race with 2 Weeks to Go
Oct19 The Coronavirus Is Surging in Battleground States
Oct19 Biden Is Swamping Trump on the Airwaves
Oct19 Court Blocks Late-Arriving Ballots in Michigan
Oct19 Trump-Oriented Printing Company Delays Shipping Ballots to Ohio and Pennsylvania