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      •  The First Shoe Drops...But What Will Follow?
      •  Saturday Q&A

The First Shoe Drops...But What Will Follow?

Many people of the Democratic persuasion are, understandably, not happy about the harsh new voting laws passed by the state of Georgia. And in hopes of putting pressure on the legislature to change course, there has been a grassroots effort to get prominent business interests—professional sports leagues, major corporations, the entertainment industry—to take strong steps to make clear their opposition to the bill.

The grassroots activists have now scored their first big victory. This year's Major League Baseball All-Star Game was scheduled to be played in Atlanta, but it won't be anymore, as the league announced on Friday that it will relocate the game to...somewhere else. Presumably they will pick some other city with a Major League team. Or, failing that, they could just move it to Cleveland.

There was also a second, medium-sized victory for the opponents of the voting laws. There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that when he was asked why he never takes stances on political issues, Michael Jordan replied: "Republicans buy shoes, too." Whether the quote is genuine or not, the remark captures the situation that Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola—the two largest corporations headquartered in Atlanta—found themselves in. On one hand, there was enormous pressure for them to push back against the new laws. On the other hand, Republicans fly on airplanes and drink soft drinks, too. Ultimately, both companies decided to issue statements condemning the voting restrictions.

The precedent that the activists are looking to, very clearly, is what happened with North Carolina's bathroom bill a few years back. In response to the bill, sports leagues withdrew events from the state (for example, the NBA All-Star Game), musicians refused to perform concerts, corporations canceled relocations/expansions into the Tar Heel State, etc. Eventually, the economic pain became enough that the state legislature was forced to dial the bathroom bill back a fair bit (though see tomorrow for a fuller account of exactly how far back).

It is not clear that what happened in North Carolina can be replicated in Georgia, however. To start with, there is an upper limit to how far the business types will take their opposition. MLB and the NBA can move their all-star games, but it's not like they canceled or relocated all the games being played by the Atlanta Braves or the Charlotte Hornets. Now that Georgia has lost this year's MLB All-Star Game, the state will go from hosting 82 professional baseball games to hosting...81 (playoffs not included). A few business entities may pause or cancel plans to move into Georgia, but it is not probable that Coca-Cola or Delta are going to relocate (especially Delta, since Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is the airline's primary hub). Some concerts might be canceled, or some film shoots might be relocated, but those are much larger in terms of visibility than they are in terms of cold, hard economic impact.

There is one thing Delta and Coca Cola could do to exert more pressure if they really wanted to. They could form a coalition of Georgia businesses and create a super PAC to support candidates in the Republican primaries for the state legislature who campaign on a platform of repealing the law. In other words, they would be committed to replacing "bad Republicans" with "good Republicans." Democrats would definitely support this and Republicans probably wouldn't wince too much since after all, the PAC was supporting Republicans, just new ones. That is a whole different matter from supporting Democrats in the general election. It is not partisan since the goal is to replace one Republican with a different Republican. Also, $250,000 is a huge amount of money for a campaign for a seat in a state legislature. There are 137 Republicans in the Georgia legislature. If the coalition could scrounge together $34 million for the PAC, that would scare the living daylights out of the Georgia Republicans and they might even decide to repeal the law themselves rather than have the newbies do it. It is very unlikely this will happen, but it is at least conceivable.

There is also one big difference between Georgia and North Carolina that is relevant here. In North Carolina, the bathroom bill was passed largely to kowtow to evangelicals and other social conservatives, and not because the legislators particularly cared about who uses which bathroom. By contrast, the Republicans in Georgia sense that things are trending in a very bad direction for them. It is an existential crisis for their political careers. And so, they seem more likely to dig in, and less likely to yield to some pressure than the North Carolinians. And that leaves us with the same conclusion that we reach every time we write about the situation in Georgia: far and away the most plausible way that the new laws get gutted is if the Congress passes H.R. 1/S. 1. (Z & V)

Saturday Q&A

Lots of interesting questions this week, we would say.

Q: In your discussion of Joe Biden's infrastructure plan, you struggled to understand Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-KY) strategy for opposing it. As successful a politician and tactician as he has been, is it possible that he has a limited repertoire of skills, and that his skill set and style were well suited to a particular set of circumstances, but now that time is waning? Sometimes strategies that are effective for one set of circumstances fail miserably down the road when the zeitgeist has changed. Thoughts? G.W., Chicago, IL

A: We think you may be on to something.

McConnell clearly has certain strengths. He's as shameless as any politician in memory, and perhaps in all of U.S. history, when it comes to stretching the rules and customs of the Senate (and then turning around and pointing the finger at his colleagues across the aisle). He's also very good at keeping his caucus unified behind him. And he obviously gambled, and won, on his belief that voters would not punish him or the Republican Party for sitting on a Supreme Court nomination for close to a year.

However, his talents—such as they are—appear to be optimized to a situation where he is the Majority Leader and the White House is controlled by the Democrats. In that circumstance, obstructionism has the most efficacy and the most political value. In his 8 years as minority leader, however, what did he really accomplish (even from a Republican perspective)? And when he was the Majority Leader and the White House was controlled by the Republicans, well, he got a bunch of conservative judges seated and he cut taxes. Getting a bunch of Republicans to vote for those things is hardly a political feat on the order of winning the Civil War, or passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Q: I agree the current border situation is a "crisis." However, how much of it should be laid at President Biden's feet? Doesn't former President Trump bear considerable responsibility for this? R.H.D., Webster, NY

A: To us, this seems very much like gas prices: the president has relatively little influence, and yet gets an enormous amount of credit/blame.

Let us point out some important things, border-wise, that a president has limited control over, particularly after just 10 weeks in office:

  • How many people attempt to enter the United States
  • Existing federal regulations about how those folks are to be handled
  • The number of staffers available to deal with the new arrivals
  • The number of facilities available that are capable of housing these folks in the manner prescribed by federal law

A president, upon taking office, does have some power in terms of how he tells DHS to implement immigration policy. Biden is responsible for two key decisions that are shaping the current situation at the border: (1) The U.S. is allowing unaccompanied minors into the country rather than turning them away, and (2) When families are encountered, an effort is made to keep them together. He could have made different decisions, but would those have resulted in better outcomes, either from a political or a humanitarian perspective?

By contrast, the Trump administration made the very visible decision that, when families were encountered, they would be split up. Officially, this was attributed to the constraints imposed by federal law. In reality, the purpose was: (1) to create a deterrent to future immigration, and (2) to send a highly visible message to Trump supporters that the administration was "strong" on enforcing immigration law.

Over the course of his time in office, a president can eventually have some influence on the items listed above. And Donald Trump most certainly did things that helped contribute to the current situation. His reduction of foreign aid to Central America, over time, encouraged more people to leave those nations in search of opportunity elsewhere (like the United States). He reduced DHS staffing, and also put some people in place who may not be the most stellar administrators in the galaxy. Certainly, he deserves more of the blame for what is happening right now than Biden does.

Q: What is your interpretation of Joe Biden assigning Kamala Harris to handle the immigration problem? It seems that this is a task where she can't really win. Whatever she does and achieves, many people will regard this as too little, too late, not really solved, etc. So, in effect, Biden damages Harris. And doesn't he strongly influence the 2024 presidential race?

By contrast, if he had assigned her to the infrastructure program (as Barack Obama did with Biden back in 2008), it would have been a winner for her and had provided her with a strong selling-point to run a presidential campaign upon (created many jobs, saved lives, made life more convenient, supported the economy etc.).
A.C., Aachen, Germany

A: We don't think that Biden threw Harris under the bus, if that is what you mean, or that he is trying to derail her future presidential hopes.

If a president wants to have a "partner" VP (as opposed to a "call the White House, see if the president is still alive, and then go golfing" VP), then it is useful to toss them a curveball or two early on, to see how they respond and to see how well they do. Obama did this with Biden; one of the then-VP's first assignments was to deal with Iraq, a thankless job. He did it effectively, and without complaint. That helped earn Obama's trust, and with it more appealing assignments.

Meanwhile, as Biden chose his "immigration emissary," he needed someone high profile. Giving the job to the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Secretarial Affairs would not be a good look. His cabinet secretaries are all very busy with other priorities, or are already at work on this situation, or have a portfolio that has nothing to do with immigration, or some combination of the three. By contrast, Harris' calendar was open, and she's a Californian who already has experience in dealing with immigration policy. She seems an easy choice for this particular task.

We also think that there is plenty of potential for Harris to shine here. Nobody's expecting her to "solve" immigration, but if she can help unsnarl some of the snarls, that's a win.

Q: On the one hand, you wrote that "[a]ll Democrats understand that unless some variant of H.R. 1 is passed, Arizona, Texas, Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and other states are going to pass laws that will probably make it impossible for Democrats to win statewide elections for years to come." On the other hand, you have written several times that increased ballot access does not necessarily help the Democrats, and the GOP may in fact be hurting itself by passing these laws given its new(ish) white working class base and the suburban flight to the Democratic Party.

Can you let us know what you think the true impact of the new voting laws in Georgia et al will be if H.R. 1 is not passed (or struck down by SCOTUS)? Will the new laws definitely hurt the Democrats, or is the outcome pretty hard to predict?
O.Z.H, Dubai, UAE

A: These two things are not incongruous. It is the case that, thanks to realignment, nobody can be confident as to which party (if either) benefits more from increased turnout. However, it is also the case that the Georgia laws are not designed to reduce voting in general, they are designed to reduce voting by Democratic-leaning groups (most obviously Black people). For example, Black churches often have buses to take "souls to the polls" after church on the Sunday before Election Day. White churches don't do this. So not having early voting on the Sunday before Election Day has a clear (and very intentional) racial effect.

This being the circumstance, the new Georgia laws (and other voting laws modeled upon them) are very likely to help the Republican Party if they stay on the books. The only plausible way that might not be true is if the affected voters are so angry, en masse, that they make a special effort to get to the polls.

Q: I believe that "no food and drink to people in line" is the law in Delaware also! This law is ostensibly to prevent from people who are giving out water/food from asking people how they are voting and pressing them to vote a particular way. Right? M.K., Carrollton, TX

A: There are two possible legal concerns here. The first is that food could be considered a form of polling-place electioneering. The second is that the food could be considered a bribe. These things are only really relevant, however, if the food is being provided by a political party or candidate. If Pizza to the Polls shows up and hands out slices of pizza to anyone who wants one, that's not bribery or electioneering.

Every state has laws that forbid both polling-place electioneering and bribery. Georgia, too, even before the passage of the recent legislation. What is unusual is that the Georgia legislature has now explicitly added "food and drink" to the list of things that cannot be given to voters. That's not unique, though, as there are a few other states whose anti-bribery/anti-electioneering statutes specify food and drink. Strangely, given that it's become a talking point among defenders of the Georgia laws, Delaware is not one of those states (see for yourself here, if you wish; scroll down to Sec. 4940). New York and Montana are the states that do declare food and drink giveaways to be verboten, but both make very clear that applies only to handouts from the candidates or parties. Pizza to the Polls would be perfectly ok in both of those states.

In other words, though the Georgians (and their defenders) are claiming that they are just doing the things that other states do to "protect elections," it's just not true. And there, in the end, is the rub. If the goal was to prevent electioneering, or to forestall bribery, there was no need for a harsh new law, since those activities were already illegal in Georgia. The only real purpose of the new food and drink law is to, in the name of "election integrity," make it harder for activists to help out people who are standing in line and waiting to vote. And those line-waiters will be disproportionately Black, since the Georgians cut the number of polling places in predominantly Black areas.

This is the way this often works, particularly with voting rights. Cloak a clear-cut partisan agenda in the guise of positive-sounding, seemingly neutral verbiage like "election integrity."

Q: I don't recall whether you commented on this after the election, but did the military voting pattern change and shift more Democratic in votes cast for President? I ask because Donald Trump so badly mistreated the military at every level (even those in graveyards) that one would expect at least some movement away from the traditional Republican leaning voting pattern, but I don't know if that happened. J.B., Bend, OR

A: We mentioned it in passing a couple of times but yes, Trump did see some slippage with military voters. According to exit polls, Trump beat Hillary Clinton among active-duty soldiers by 26 points (60%-34%) in 2016. Then, in 2020, he beat Joe Biden by just 7 points (52%-45%), a rather sizable 19-point shift. Anecdotally, it appears that soldiers were not only unhappy with Trump, but they also appreciated Biden's outspoken support for his veteran son Beau.

Q: With these ridiculous voting laws being put in place because Republicans are afraid of losing their power to an ever changing America, what is stopping President Biden from declaring through executive order that the first Tuesday in November is a national holiday? It seems to me that Republicans are trying their hardest to make it impossible to vote any other day than Election Day, so beat them at their own game? If it has to go through Congress, what would be the argument against creating such a holiday? W.G., San Francisco, CA

A: Executive orders can only compel action by employees of the executive branch. So, if Biden issues an XO decreeing that Election Day is a holiday, then everyone who works for the executive branch would get a day off. For all the rest of us, the XO would merely be a helpful suggestion from the President. If Congress were to pass a law declaring Election Day to be a national holiday, then it would mean that all federal employees would get a day off. However, it would still just be a suggestion for everyone else. Private businesses and other entities are not legally required to recognize federal holidays (unless they have agreed to a union contract that contains that stipulation).

Congress could also pass a law requiring every federal contractor and subcontractor ad infinitum to give all of their workers and freelancers Election Day off with pay. That would simply be a condition in the contract. If a company finds this too onerous, it wouldn't bid for the contract. There are a lot of companies that sell goods and services to the government, so this would have a big impact.

The reason that businesses don't much care for adding holidays to the calendar is that on a holiday, most of their expenses (rent, wages) still have to be paid, but they are not accruing any income. And so, those expenses come out of the month's profits. As we said, businesses can just ignore federal holidays (and with some of the lesser ones, like Columbus Day, they do). However, the existence of the holiday creates a certain amount of social pressure, and a fair amount of dissatisfaction from employees who feel they are being "forced" to work on a holiday. So, the business types prefer there be no holiday, as opposed to being put in the position of telling their staff: "It may be a holiday, but you will still report to work."

Q: You provided several metrics about the President and the midterm elections. But when it comes to "throw the bums out," I'd be curious whether adding the length of time a Party has held the House provides any insight into the likelihood of a change. Also, when the President comes in with a trifecta, how often does he lose it in the midterms? O.S., Boston, MA

A: We're not going to answer your question right now. We put together the data for four possible theories in the original piece, and you've proposed two other ways to slice the data. If anyone has additional suggestions, please send them along, and we will do another piece later this week.

Q: Wikipedia claims the Cook Partisan Voting Index (PVI) is a measurement of how strongly a congressional district or state leans toward the Democratic or Republican Party, based on how that district or state voted "in the previous two Presidential elections." They also note that PVIs are currently based on the 2012 and 2016 elections. When will PVIs be recalculated to be based on the 2016 and 2020 elections? T.B., Tallahassee, FL

A: Wikipedia's information is correct. We will take this opportunity to point out that in those two presidential elections, the Democrats took the majority of the popular vote (by 4 points in 2012, and by 2 points in 2016, for an average—according to our staff mathematician—of 3 points). So, if a congressional district splits its votes 50/50 between the two parties, it will be labeled as R+2, since 50% is two points better than the 48% of the vote that the Republican presidential candidates collected nationwide. This is why R+[single digit] districts are, in general, more vulnerable than D+[single digit] districts. If a district is D+2, it means that the Democrat has won there by an average of 8 points.

In any case, we can find no statement by Charlie Cook and his staff about when the updated version comes out. They generally release them between 5-10 months after the election, with the last two post-presidential updates coming in March (of 2017) and April (of 2013). In other words, we assume—but we do not know—that an update is imminent. However, Cook probably wants to have the new PVIs apply to the newly drawn congressional districts, not the old ones. This could delay the process for months.

Q: It seems like the best way to pick the sequence of state primaries would be to make it quantitative, and allow for the order to shift from election to election. My thought would be to have the first primary awarded to the state who won the popular vote by the smallest percentage, and the second primary to the state who lost the popular vote by the smallest percentage, and so forth. This would help encourage engagement and dialogue on issues that are important to purple states. D.B., Glendale, CA

A: If the Democrats used your scheme, then the first three contests in the next election, and in the previous four, would look like this:

  • 2024: Georgia, North Carolina, Arizona
  • 2020: New Hampshire, Michigan, Minnesota
  • 2016: Florida, North Carolina, Ohio
  • 2012: North Carolina, Missouri, Indiana
  • 2008: Wisconsin, Iowa, New Hampshire

It certainly generates a nice rotation. That said, there are an awful lot of large states there, which would give a huge advantage to well-known and well-heeled candidates, and would make it very hard for upstarts to make a dent. A better plan would be to have four smallish states, in four regions of the country, always go first, and rotate among them. Just replace New Hampshire with Rhode Island (with its 19% minority voters) and Iowa with Wisconsin (14% minority) or Michigan (21% minority) and it makes it possible for unknown candidates to have a chance, yet allows minority voters to have a larger voice in the selection of the nominee.

Q: In your item about New York legalizing a certain drug, are there any names or euphemisms that I missed? "Pot," "evil weed," "Mary Jane," "dope," "reefer," and "grass" are all the ones I saw. Of course, you didn't use the proper name once which I presume was part of the joke. D.M., McLean, VA

A: You got them all. And we've developed something of a tradition around here that whenever we write about the chronic, we squeeze in as many slang terms as possible.

Q: In 50 years or so of abortion as a wedge issue, I can't remember anyone proposing the development of a medical technique for extracting a viable fetus from a womb and implanting it into a agreeable surrogate. Have you ever seen a mention of such a medical advancement? Such a procedure would perhaps solve many of the issues around female personal rights and the desire to protect new life. P.M., Simi Valley, CA

A: We spoke to a physician, and confirmed that there are two problems with this idea from a medical perspective. The first is that by the time a woman is aware she is pregnant, there is not only a fetus, but also a placenta that is intimately connected to the woman's reproductive system. A surgeon could plausibly remove the fetus and placenta and keep them viable, but it is beyond the capabilities of modern medicine to implant those into a recipient, creating the necessary connections between the woman's body and the placenta.

The second medical problem is that if a woman wants to become pregnant, and can't do it the old-fashioned way, then in-vitro fertilization is a low-risk, high-success option. By contrast, implanting an already-growing fetus would require pumping the recipient with all sorts of drugs to try to trick her body into not rejecting the foreign body, and then undergoing and recovering from a major surgery. In other words, fetus-planting is a grossly inferior option to IVF.

There's also a public policy issue that we will point out. The number of abortions performed each year vastly exceeds the number of potential fetus recipients. So, the development of such a procedure would not in any meaningful way "solve" the issue.

Q: I am puzzled by the fact that municipalities that permit one to conceal and carry a pistol or revolver will nevertheless still ban someone from carrying a switchblade knife, a set of brass knuckles or shuriken. Perhaps in framing the debate, one should seek agreement on just what weapons should be banned.

To start with an extreme case, should one be banned from building a nuclear weapon in one's basement? Such an item can certainly be defined as "arms" and hence should be protected under the second amendment. Too extreme? Then how about a Howitzer, useful for intimidating the neighbors and keeping them from getting too noisy? Perhaps an RPG launcher? How about a fragmentation grenade, or perhaps a suicide vest made up of fragmentation grenades? A vial of smallpox? A water pistol filled with mercaptoethanol? What is it about these arms that makes them less worthy of second amendment protection than a semi-automatic rifle?
B.B., St. Louis, MO

A: In District of Columbia v. Heller, the Supreme Court (with Antonin Scalia writing the majority opinion) established this standard for separating "protected" from "non-protected" weapons: "...the Second Amendment does not protect those weapons not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, such as short-barreled shotguns."

This pretty clearly covers the weapons you listed; switchblades, knucks, nukes, etc. are not typically possessed by law-abiding citizens and/or are not typically used for lawful purposes. The tricky part, which the nation is still wrestling with, is drawing a bright-red line across the gray area between regular rifles and handguns and high-power high-capacity firearms developed primarily/exclusively for military or law enforcement purposes.

Q: I had never heard the term "transmisic". How is it different from "transphobic"? J.H., Boston, CA

A: The suffix 'phobic" comes from "phobos," the Greek word for fear. The suffix "misic" comes from "misos," the Greek word for hatred. Those who prefer "transmisic" (or "homomisic") give three reasons for that choice:

  • The use of "phobic" conflates mental illness and bigotry, which are two different things.
  • The use of "phobic" for bigots runs the risk of shaming those who have legitimate psychological issues.
  • The use of "phobic" for bigots potentially excuses their bad behavior by implying that it is not within their control.

Q: Is there anything of permanence that will endure as a Trump policy or political legacy? M.O., Arlington, VA

A: His executive orders are being cut down by the bushel, his tax cut is about to be (partly) rolled back, his wall was a farce, and the Abraham Accords merely took an existing state of affairs and formalized it. We struggle to see how any of his signature policy accomplishments will be remembered in 50 years. Or in 5 years, for that matter.

On the other hand, his style of campaigning will be with us for a while, and maybe forever. The Trumpy elements of the Republican Party are not likely to be purged anytime soon. The significant weakening of democratic norms and of standards of presidential behavior may never be fully reversed.

Q: I've been following Sens. Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock (both D-GA) on social media, as I think they're both fantastic senators and genuinely nice, caring people. I find it quite humorous that Ossoff is the senior senator from Georgia, given that he's the youngest member of the Senate and junior in age to Warnock. I assume this is because Ossoff won a full term outright, whereas Warnock is serving as a placeholder for a not-yet expired term, so that must give him the senior status. This got me thinking: Are there many other examples of a senator instantly becoming the senior senator from their state the moment they were sworn in? M.U., Seattle, WA

A: Let us start by noting that Ossoff is not the senior senator by virtue of being elected to a full term. Since both men were elected on the same day, it came down to various tiebreakers that have been established to deal with this potentiality. Most of those tiebreakers have to do with previous service in office, which neither Ossoff nor Warnock has. And so, it came down to the very last tiebreaker on the list: last name, in alphabetical order. Ossoff is the senior senator, then, because 'O' comes before 'W' in the alphabet.

Becoming an insta-senior senator under circumstances like this is indeed unusual, but not unheard of. One of the more...interesting of those involved the New York senatorial delegation in February of 1804. John Armstrong Jr. (D-R) was a loyal party man, and was appointed to fill DeWitt Clinton's seat after Clinton resigned. Then, the other senator from New York, Theodorus Bailey (D-R), died, making Armstrong the senior senator. There was, at that point, much less time remaining in the deceased Bailey's term than in Armstrong's term. However, Armstrong knew he was about to be appointed minister to France. And so, he and the state legislature of New York cooked up an arrangement to maximize Democratic-Republican control of the two Senate seats:

  • On Feb. 23, Armstrong resigned his seat with 3 years left in the term.
  • On Feb. 24, John Smith (D-R) was chosen by the legislature to replace Armstrong.
  • On Feb. 25, Armstrong was elected to the other seat, serving as a placeholder for four months until another loyal Democratic-Republican could be found to replace him.

And so, not only did Smith instantly become New York's senior senator when he was sworn in, but Armstrong managed to go from "senior senator" to "junior senator" in 48 hours, which is not easy to do.

All of this said, while the Ossoff and Smith circumstances are unusual, insta-senior senators are more common than you might think, for reasons that will presumably seem obvious when we point them out. First of all, it's happened 50 times when the first delegation of senators was sworn in from each of the 50 states. It also happened 13 times after the Civil War, when Southern states re-filled Senate seats that had been abandoned during the rebellion. In other words, it's happened at least 65 times.

Q: You mentioned the other male riders on the night of the "The British are Coming," but you did not include Sybil Ludington in the cohort. I was always given to understand that this 16-year-old girl was one of the many messengers that night. Is this my misunderstanding or your omission? Z.W., Greenville, NC

A: It is true that Ludington is known as "the female Paul Revere." However, Revere's ride took place in April 1775 in Massachusetts. Ludington's reportedly took place in April 1777 in New York and Connecticut. So, they were different events.

Further, the first time that Ludington's ride was first mentioned in print was in 1880, more than 100 years after it (allegedly) took place, and more than 40 years after Ludington died. That triggers a lot of red flags for a historian, raising the possibility that the details are way off, or that the ride never took place at all. If so, she wouldn't be the only real woman to be credited with exaggerated or non-existent deeds during the Revolutionary War; Mary Hays is another example.

Q: Sorry to revisit the ugly birther issue, but I just read that Barry Goldwater was born in 1909, while Arizona was still a territory. I'm sure that he was, but could you explain why he was eligible to serve as President? Was this an issue in the 1964 campaign, and do you think that had Barack Obama been born while Hawaii was a territory, it would have increased the questions regarding his legitimacy to serve? S.K., Aurora, IL

A: Goldwater's citizenship was not an issue in 1964 the way Barack Obama's was in 2008, but that's not to say it wasn't an issue at all. There were certainly folks who tried to get him disqualified on the basis of not being a natural-born citizen. Like, for example, the attorney Melvin Belli, who was the 1960s' answer to Orly Taitz.

Belli and Taitz, though being lawyers, apparently didn't bother to read the relevant laws. Or they just didn't like what they read. In any event, there are really two relevant bits of law here. The first is the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which makes clear that "All persons the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States." The second is a series of Supreme Court decisions known as the Insular Cases. These were issued in 1901, and were a response to the United States' evolution into an empire (and with that, acquisition of various overseas territories). The Court ruled that for purposes of natural-born citizenship, being born in actual states counted, as did being born in incorporated territories, but not being born in unincorporated territories.

An incorporated territory is one that has been formally recognized by Congress and started on the path to statehood. Arizona was an incorporated territory when Goldwater was born, and so under the guidelines provided by the 14th Amendment and the Insular Cases, he was a natural-born citizen (and his parents were both Americans, which makes him doubly a natural-born citizen). Similarly, Hawaii was an incorporated territory from 1900 until statehood was conferred in 1959. So, Obama would have been a natural-born citizen either way. Undoubtedly, if Hawaii had been a territory in 1961, it would have increased the number of questions raised about his citizenship, but it would not have made them any more valid.

Incidentally, places like American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands are unincorporated territories. So, the citizenship status of people born in those places is decided upon by Congress. Puerto Ricans have, for example, been granted citizenship from birth. By contrast, residents of American Samoa have been decreed to be "U.S. nationals" from birth, but not citizens (though a pending legal case may change that).

Q: Have members of Congress always had a staff or are Congressional staffers a more recent invention? W.S., Green Township, PA

A: At the start of the Republic, and for most of its first century, austerity was the order of the day when it came to federal expenditures. In part, that was because most Americans believed in small government. And in part, it was a relatively poor country, with a government that relied primarily on tariffs for its income, and there wasn't money for fancy things like...congressional staffers. And so, members of Congress had no staff unless they personally hired and paid for them. In fact, for a long time, members of Congress didn't even have offices—they worked at their desks.

The situation began to shift during and after the Civil War. That conflict did much to quash Americans' objections to a large federal government. It also launched the U.S. on the path to becoming an industrialized world power with far more money in its national coffers. And so, Congressional staffers began to be hired in the 1860s and 1870s, though it remained the case until the 1920s that most members got one staff member to assist them, while most committees got just two or three.

Q: I hate to drag you into such a highly political and extremely controversial discussion, but do the Bruins men's basketball team have a positive immediate future in the Final Four? After all, those Gonzaga Poodles only defeated the famed USC team by a mere 19 points. L.V.A., Idaho Falls, ID

A: Well, you can't go by what USC does. After all, the school's motto is "You want fries with that?" At least, that's what we've heard.

UCLA plays an annoying style of defense that sometimes gets skilled teams off their game. It worked against Alabama, and it worked against Michigan, and now they are hoping it works a third time (and then a fourth). That said, the line is Gonzaga -14, so a Bruins win would be a minor miracle.

Q: Here is a rather timely question. You have occasionally mentioned that you aim to have the daily update ready by 06:00 a.m. Eastern Time. Normally, this corresponds to 03:00 Pacific Time for (Z), and 12:00 in Central Europe for (V). Each spring (and autumn), there is a period where this normal time difference is altered, due to the asynchronous changing of the clocks between North America and Europe. This period just came to an end this week, which is part of the timeliness of this question.

During the asynchronous period of 2-3 weeks each spring, and 1 week each autumn, does the targeted update time follow the clocks in Europe (V) or in North America (Z)?

This is apropos to nothing, but enquiring minds want to know.
M.M., Sheffield, UK

A: The timing is largely based on whatever time it is in Los Angeles. First, because our 6:00 a.m. goal is pegged to New York City/the Eastern U.S. And second because (Z) finishes his contributions at or near 3:00, while (V) finishes his earlier. So, if we are to be on time, or early, or late, it largely depends on (Z), and thus largely on his clock in L.A.

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
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Mar31 DNC Gets Ready to Tinker With the Rules
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Mar30 World Leaders Propose Pandemic Alliance
Mar30 Past as Prologue: Presidential Retirements
Mar30 Van Drew Draws Potential Nightmare Opponent
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Mar27 Saturday Q&A
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Mar26 Cheney 1, Trump Jr. 0
Mar26 Old Presidents Never Die--They Just Fade Away
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