Dem 50
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Ties 2
GOP 48
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New polls:  
Dem pickups vs. 2020 Senate: PA
GOP pickups vs. 2020 Senate : (None)
Political Wire logo U.S. Lost 26 Years of Progress on Life Expectancy
Liz Truss Apologizes for Chaotic First Weeks
Boris Epshteyn Rises in Trump Land
Trump Seeks to Kill Mail Ballots in Pennsylvania
Ukrainians Support Fighting Until Victory
Politics Divides Friends and Families Too

TODAY'S HEADLINES (click to jump there; use your browser's "Back" button to return here)
      •  Obama to Hit the Campaign Trail
      •  Warnock Debates an Empty Podium
      •  Lake Won't Commit to Accepting Defeat
      •  Roger Stone Is a Nut Case. Who knew?
      •  What About Fetterman's Health?
      •  Question of the Day: Idiocracy
      •  Truss Has Cheesed Off Just About Everyone

Obama to Hit the Campaign Trail

The most common question we got in the questions mailbag this week—one we certainly would have answered if (Z)'s knee had not decided to go AWOL—was: Where the heck is Barack Obama? He's the most popular Democrat in the country, and the blue team needs all hands on deck right now. That question has now been answered. Obama's office released a statement this weekend advising that he will visit the battleground states of Georgia, Michigan and Wisconsin in advance of the midterm elections.

The problem with Obama is this: Yes, he is very popular... with Democrats. However, he's also very unpopular with many Republicans, thanks to a now-decade-long propaganda campaign designed to depict him and Michelle Obama as divisive, snobby, secretly communist, secretly Muslim, traitors to American interests, etc., etc. This is not to say that there are not legitimate criticisms of Obama to be raised, but the version of the 44th president that is talked about on right-wing media is some bizarro combination of Malcolm X, Satan and Saddam Hussein.

In short, Obama has to be deployed carefully, so as to make sure his campaigning does more good than harm for the Democrats. This is indicated by the list of cities where Obama has scheduled campaign visits: Atlanta, Detroit and Milwaukee. In case the theme there is not immediately clear, let us list those cities again: Atlanta (50% Black), Detroit (77% Black) and Milwaukee (40% Black).

Black voters have historically been unreliable midterm voters. And Black voters have historically been very enamored of Obama. And so, the former president is being used like a version of "souls to the polls," which is a Democratic initiative meant to get Black churchgoers to polling places. And if Obama can whip up 20-30,000 votes in those places, that could well be decisive in a year like 2022. (Z)

Warnock Debates an Empty Podium

Georgia U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker (R) showed up on Friday for the state's first senatorial debate of this cycle. He had a few minor to moderate gaffes, but did not take any body blows, or suffer any "Eastern Europe is not under Soviet domination" moments. So, it certainly appeared that Walker had dodged a bullet, since he "proved" he was willing to debate, and yet didn't shoot himself in the foot. That's certainly how we wrote it up.

Maybe we spoke too fast, though. There was another debate scheduled for yesterday; Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-GA) showed up, and so too did Libertarian Chase Oliver. The podium set aside for Walker's use remained empty throughout the evening, something that the moderators pointed out several times.

This no-show is a potential problem for Walker for two reasons. The first is that Warnock had free rein to defend his own record, and to raise questions about Walker, with very little pushback. It what will likely become the soundbite of the evening, the Senator observed that, in his experience, "half of being a senator is showing up," and Walker can't even be bothered to show up. The Warnock campaign made sure to post that observation to Twitter as soon as the debate was over.

The second problem for Walker is that it turns out an empty podium is rather meme-worthy. Here's the most obvious joke, which people are making all over the place on Twitter and other social media sites:


Ultimately, while we understand the reasoning between Walker's one-and-out debate strategy, it may have been a mistake. He's likely to take some damage from Sunday's non-performance. Further, he's consistently lagged Warnock in the polls, he appears to have lost another 2.5 points or so since the paid-for-an-abortion news came out, and opportunities to change the trajectory of the race are dwindling. Maybe the football-player-turned-politician should have showed up on Sunday, after all. (Z)

Lake Won't Commit to Accepting Defeat

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, which gubernatorial candidate is the Trumpiest of all? That's probably enough to break the magic mirror, since it's not easy to choose between Doug Mastriano (R) in Pennsylvania and Kari Lake (R) in Arizona. They are both fanatically Trumpy, and just fanatical in general; that much is certain.

This weekend, Lake was on CNN's State of the Union with Dana Bash. And, on three occasions, Bash asked Lake if she was willing to accept defeat, should that come to pass. Lake dodged the question twice, and then finally declared: "I'm going to win the election, and I will accept that result."

The reticence of Lake, or Mastriano, or any other Republican—from vice associate dogcatcher of East Cupcake to President of the United States—to commit to accepting defeat leaves us with just one question. And that question is: Who cares?

The concession phone call/telegram, coupled with the concession speech, have been a longstanding and chivalrous tradition in American politics, dating back at least 150 years. And it's a shame that Donald Trump has destroyed this bit of civility, just like he's destroyed so many other bits of civility. But in the end, a concession has zero official meaning. A candidate can concede zero times, one time, or 50 times, and it doesn't change anything. If the candidate concedes, and they actually won, then they take office anyhow. If a candidate refuses to concede, and they actually lost, then their opponent takes office anyhow.

In our view, reporters should just stop asking this question. It implies that the candidate has some voice or some role in deciding whether they won or not, and that their decision to concede defeat (or not) has some importance. This is not a useful message, as it encourages some (and perhaps many) people to think "Well, if my candidate didn't concede, it must not be officially over." This is a line of thinking that plays right into the hands of Trump and other election conspiracists.

Truth be told, if a person can't behave like a grown-up, and adhere to the basic standards of behavior expected of any candidate for office, we would prefer that legitimate media stop giving them a platform. Interviewing Kari Lake doesn't make CNN "balanced," it just makes the outlet a tool in promoting her antidemocratic propaganda. There are plenty of reasonable Republicans out there who could be given that screen time instead. (Z)

Roger Stone Is a Nut Case. Who knew?

Speaking of reasonable Republicans... well, that is not a category that includes right-wing dirty trickster Roger Stone. He is about as far from "reasonable" as one can be, at least without being compelled to relocate to a residence with rubber walls.

Stone also has one of the biggest egos in American politics, a fact that led him to agree to allow documentarian Christoffer Guldbrandsen to follow him around and document his every utterance. After all, only important people get documentaries made about them. The problem is that Guldbrandsen is most definitely not a member of Team Roger, and he keeps releasing footage that does not exactly portray Stone in a positive light. It was Guldbrandsen, for example, who was responsible for the footage shown by the 1/6 Committee in which Stone decrees: "Fu** the voting, let's get right to the violence. Shoot to kill. See an antifa? Shoot to kill. Fu** 'em. Done with this bull**it."

This weekend, Guldbrandsen posted some more footage that Stone might prefer stay private:

In case you don't care to listen—and we certainly don't blame you—Stone says: "I'm done with this president. I'm going to go public supporting impeachment. I have no choice. He has to go, he has to go. Run again, you'll get your f**king brains beat in." Reportedly, Stone was angry that he only got one pardon from Trump, when he really wanted and needed two pardons.

Obviously, Stone is a hothead. And he did not become an outspoken supporter of impeachment, despite his threat. So, this might have just been a "heat of the moment" kind of thing. However, we pass it along because Stone knows where at least some of the bodies are buried. And if there actually is trouble in paradise (well, Mar-a-Lago, which masquerades as paradise), then Stone might well turn on the former president to save his own skin. We previously wondered whether or not he was a True Believer who might be willing to take a (legal) bullet for Trump the way G. Gordon Liddy took a (legal) bullet for Stone's hero Dick Nixon. This new footage would seem to suggest the answer is "no," and that if the rats start abandoning the sinking ship, Stone could be on the first lifeboat. (Z)

What About Fetterman's Health?

Republican U.S. Senate candidate for Pennsylvania Mehmet Oz seems to have found a line of attack against his opponent, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (D), that is actually working. Oz is making as much hay as he possibly can out of Fetterman's recent stroke, confiding that—as a physician—he's concerned that Fetterman just won't be up to the mental rigors of serving in the Senate. Never mind that Oz hasn't examined Fetterman, or that Oz isn't a neurologist, or that Oz is a quack who long ago disgraced his medical degree.

Here, in a nutshell, are the things being used as ammunition against Fetterman since his stroke, both by Oz and by others in the (mostly right-wing) media:

  • After the stroke, Fetterman was off the campaign trail for multiple months.

  • Fetterman has garbled a few things in public appearances.

  • Fetterman says he will continue to improve, but most of the improvement post-stroke happens in the first 3 months. So, promises of dramatic further improvement might be optimistic.

  • In his first post-stroke interview, with NBC's Dasha Burns, Fetterman relied on closed captioning in order to make certain he understood the questions. His answers were fine, but Burns decided to make herself part of the story by emphasizing this point, and by sharing her opinion that Fetterman might not have been perfectly lucid at times when the captions weren't available.

Readers will recall that (Z) worked for a newspaper for many years. And, truth be told, Burns should be fired for her role in all of this. Accommodations made for an interview subject are generally off-the-record. If they're not going to be off-the-record, then the interview subject needs to know that, so that they can make their decisions about whether to proceed, and how, with 100% clarity. For Burns to not only make a point of sharing details, but also to engage in armchair neurology, was a pretty gross breach of ethics.

In any event, the issues listed above may seem pretty damning. But the fact is that people do recover from strokes like the one Fetterman had all the time, and the consensus of those who have actually examined him is that he will eventually regain 100% of his pre-stroke capacity. The would-be senator has released a letter from his physician stating that he "should be able to campaign and serve in the U.S. Senate without a problem."

Perhaps more unexpectedly, Fetterman's preference for captioning is... surprisingly common. Roughly one-quarter of Americans have some sort of auditory processing issue that causes them to rely on captioning software in professional situations at least some of the time. And when it comes to lower-stakes situations, the use of captions is positively commonplace. A recent study, brought to our attention by reader J.G. in San Diego, reveals that 89% of Americans use subtitles at least some of the time when watching video content, and half of Americans use them the majority of the time. And which generation is most likely to use them? It ain't the Baby Boomers. Nope, it's Generation Z, where 70% commonly rely on captioning.

In short, Fetterman's management of his post-stroke recovery really doesn't raise any red flags, even if it seems to at first glance. And some of the folks who are making a big deal about it, including Oz, are either approaching, or crossing, the line into ableism. Put another way, needing some assistance from a computer is far less problematic than some of the incapacities that already-sitting U.S. senators already have.

Of course, this Oz-Fetterman campaign has been no-holds-barred, and quite nasty. So, the Democrats will soon return fire. Oz made a big point recently of "spontaneously" bringing a woman who has lost family members to gun violence up on stage with him at one of his campaign rallies. What came out this weekend is that the whole thing was not only staged, but the woman is an Oz campaign staffer. This is not going to help his reputation for playing fast and loose with the facts. Similarly, the Senate Majority PAC is about to spend millions on ads highlighting Oz's use of live animals in his research.—you know, the stuff about torturing puppies and hearing them cry and scream before dying. So, the Fetterman stroke stuff may soon get pushed into the background. (Z)

Question of the Day: Idiocracy

On Sunday, we posted some questions for readers to answer; we're going to share some of the responses we got over the course of the week. If you don't know what this is all about, click on the link and read the backstory.

Today's question, courtesy of T.H. in La Quinta, CA, is: "From what I've seen and read, if Herschel Walker (R) is elected to the Senate, he would be, perhaps, the least smart member of Congress. Who do you think he would replace as #1?" Here are our responses, followed by those of some of the readers:

(V): Sen. Potatocity (R-AL). Not even close.

(Z): Tommy Tuberville. The man doesn't even know the three branches of the federal government, and that's before we get into his being a racist. As a general rule, racists are not known for their explorations of neurosurgery and rocket science.

T.R. in Pittsburgh, PA: I'm hoping that Herschel Walker does not get elected. Every day and every other scandal it seems less likely. If he does get elected, I would have said the person he would replace as dumbest senator is Ron Johnson (R-WI), but it seems like Tommy Tuberville took that cake and ate it last week with his woefully ignorant remarks.

C.S. in Los Angeles, CA: My first thought would be Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK), but after Tommy Tuberville's ignorant reparation remarks I'm going with him.

M.B. in Noble, OK: Until now it was a slam dunk for the "least smart" member of the Senate. That honor, for a long time, has belonged to Jim "I have a snowball in January to prove there is no global warming" Inhofe. Walker won't replace Inhofe as the least smart, as Inhofe is retiring, so they wouldn't end up serving together. However, Oklahoma, in our infinite "wisdom," will probably send another "less than the sharpest spoon in the drawer," Markwayne Mullen to the Senate. Jeeeeesssh! Leave to Oklahoma to be last in everything.

D.S. in Nashua, NH: It's a struggle to chose who Herschel Walker will replace as the dumbest member of Congress, simply because there are so many competing for that distinction. Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Lauren Boebert (R-CO), Jim Jordan (R-OH) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX) come to mind. But I think that particular honor may go to Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC), the poor dear. If we limit it to the Senate, I think Ron Johnson is in contention, but that Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) takes the title hands down.

A.H. in Newberg, OR: To keep it simple I will stick with the Senate. For me Marsha, Marsha, Marsha Blackburn is the winner (or loser) hands down. If I had to consider the entire congressional body I would be writing into next week.

S.K. in Holyoke, MA: A theoretical Senator Walker would not technically displace anyone as #1. The least smart member of the 117th Congress is Rep. Louie Gohmert, and if Walker is #1 in the 118th Congress, it will only be because Gohmert will no longer be a member.

M.M. in Plano, TX: The dumbest member of Congress, at present, has got to be Louis Gohmert, known throughout Texas as "the idiot."

M.E.T. in Garden City, NY: I suggest that dumb is qualitatively different from mentally ill, cynically partisan, or even bull-headedly ideological. That may rule out many others' nominees.

For sheer stupidity, combined with gullibility, I have to go with Louie Gohmert. And he's no Marjorie-come-lately; he's been saying idiotic things in Congress since 2004. Terror babies? Solar panels frying birds? We should alter the earth's or moon's orbit to address climate change?

The breadth of his idiocy, and his consistent performance across multiple administrations, earns him the crown.

K.H. in Albuquerque, NM: Apparently, it's easier to find data on who is at the top of the list if you define "smart" as some combination of active and effective. Over at The Center for Effective Lawmaking, they have a complex methodology that results in comprehensive rankings for all senators and representatives. Rep. Kay Granger (R-TX) is at the bottom of the list (though unfortunately, the latest data is only for the previous 116th Congress).

B.C. in Manhattan Beach, CA: I would say that the current member of Congress who is least smart is either Marjorie Taylor Greene or Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL). But I'll also observe that Sarah Palin could give the two of them and Herschel Walker a run for their money if she ends up being elected.

Tomorrow's question is about consumption of news, and the possibility of taking a break. You can click on the link above to read the full question, and there's still time to weigh in, should you care to do so. (V & Z)

Truss Has Cheesed Off Just About Everyone

George Canning served as prime minister of the United Kingdom for just 119 days, his time in office coming to an end because his time on earth came to an end (more below). New PM Liz Truss may give Canning a run for his money, even without dying. Her ill-conceived announcement of tax cuts for the rich sent an already reeling British economy into freefall and made her position precarious, to say the least.

This weekend was full of bad news for the PM. In an effort to save her own neck, she sacked Chancellor of the Exchequer [Treasury Minister]and long-time ally) Kwasi Kwarteng. Kwarteng has already been replaced by Jeremy Hunt, who says that much of Truss' economic plan has to go. None of this has helped stabilize the PM's position; members of her party are predicting that she's "finished" and that "she'll be gone next week." And even Joe Biden has weighed in, calling Truss' now-abandoned tax plan "a mistake." It is not often that a U.S. president openly criticizes a U.K. prime minister, particularly just weeks after that PM assumed office.

As per usual, in hopes of getting a better handle on things, we've reached out to two of our regular correspondents in the U.K. First, from S.T. in Worcestershire, England, UK:

Meet this month's Finance Minister...

With apologies to Oscar Wilde, "To lose one chancellor is unfortunate, to lose three looks like carelessness." Yet, in the midst of our economic crisis, the UK is now on its fourth finance minister since July 5th. Rishi Sunak resigned on that day, Boris Johnson appointed Nadhim Zahawi to replace him, Liz Truss demoted Zahawi when she became Prime Minister and replaced him with Kwasi Kwarteng, who on Friday (October 14) she sacked and replaced with Jeremy Hunt.

As was reported on on September 27 and 29, Kwarteng's "Fiscal Event," which announced lots of tax cuts but no guidance on how they would be funded, saw the financial markets go into panic mode. The volatility has continued ever since and has certainly not been slowed by the political turmoil in the ruling party. The first week in October saw the Conservative party conference, an event many Conservative MP's pointedly chose not to attend. The tone was set by former cabinet minister Michael Gove, who, Game of Thrones fans may note, seems to model himself on Lord Baelish. His criticism of the proposed tax cuts, whilst in the same TV studio as Prime Minister Truss, was not so much a stab in the back as one in the front and set the scene for a total breakdown in party discipline at the conference. By October 3, the most criticized part of the "Fiscal Event," the abolition of the highest rate of income tax, had been jettisoned by Kwarteng. The next U-turn was to decide to bring the next financial update forward to the end of October, rather than the third week in November as originally planned. Quite simply, the markets were unwilling to wait nearly 2 months for an update on how the books would be balanced. The Office for Budget Responsibility, the independent body which reviews government budgets, has already submitted a report on the national finances to the government which has been not published, though it is widely reported that it highlights a "black hole" of £60 billion which has to be filled—somehow.

Meanwhile, in the real world, the value of sterling has been bouncing around all over the place: the rate for short term mortgages has risen to nearly 6.5% (many homebuyers in the U.K. have short-time limited mortgages, which have to be renegotiated every 2-5 years, and are now threatened with increases of up to £500 a month!), and the Bank of England has had to step in to buy government debt after it was realized the escalating interest rates on this was causing liquidity problems in the pensions sector.

Following lackluster speeches and little hint of remorse at the party conference by Truss and Kwarteng, Parliament reassembled on October 10. Questions to Treasury Ministers on Tuesday and Prime Ministers questions on Wednesday were both judged to be car crashes. A private meeting held by Truss with her MPs late Wednesday was allegedly even worse. So, in the spirit of something having to be done, further U-turns came into play, and the decision in September not to increase the Business Tax next year, as originally proposed by Chancellor Sunak, was identified as the most palatable option. Exactly what was said by whom to whom is still very opaque but it appears that Truss and Kwarteng ended up at loggerheads, Kwarteng flew back from an IMF meeting in Washington, and Truss promptly sacked him. She followed that up with a press conference announcing that the Business Tax would now be increased after all, and took just 4 questions from the press, none of which were properly answered, before retreating back into 10 Downing Street.

Jeremy Hunt, the new chancellor, has plenty of cabinet experience as Culture, Health, and Foreign Secretary between 2010 and 2019, but has never held a major finance post. He is being greeted as a sensible moderate choice, which is really code for saying he has not previously been a Truss supporter. He has two weeks to come up with a package which will convince his party, the markets and the electorate—good luck, Jezza!

And Truss? Well, having sacked a former ideological soulmate and the guy who was actioning the policies which she had been elected leader on, she is totally lacking credibility: one of the questions she ducked at the press conference was why she was not resigning too. Probably the majority of her MPs are now desperate to jettison her, but a newly elected leader is supposed to be immune from challenge for a year. Doubtless, inventive minds will be trying to come up with some suitable mechanism over the course of this week. The only certainty in a totally febrile political environment is that there will be no immediate general election. With the Conservatives averaging a 25% deficit to the main opposition party currently, over half of their current MPs would be facing defeat if they dared to call an election.

And A.B in Lichfield, England, UK adds:

I'm conscious that it's often difficult to judge the long-term impact of historical events as they're being experienced, and that we have a tendency to overemphasise the significance of events that we're living through—but Liz Truss's disastrous October 14 press conference will surely live long in the memory as one of the worst and most self-defeating political performances by a democratically elected politician in the 21st century. Those who want to experience the extent of the self-immolation can watch it on the official 10 Downing Street YouTube channel. If you can't bring yourself to spend a full 9 minutes watching a head of government commit public political suicide, then simply forward to the 4:16 mark, where the Prime Minister starts to take questions—and keep in mind that the first two questions are from the traditionally Conservative Party-supporting Daily Telegraph and Sun newspapers. What you're watching is the equivalent of a Fox News anchor standing up in the White House briefing room, and directly asking a Republican president why they're so incompetent. The subsequent two questions—one from the BBC's political editor—are no less brutal.

The UK's latest descent into political madness has been caused by the sacking of Kwarteng. Dr Kwarteng—who has a PhD in economic history on political thought of the recoinage crisis of 1695-7 (really, you couldn't make this up)—must surely be the first senior cabinet minister sacked for agreeing with the Prime Minister and implementing the PM's chosen policies. But he became the inevitable sacrificial lamb when various U-turns over aspects of Kwarteng's October 3 mini-budget failed to settle markets, failed to bring interest rates under control, and failed to do much to support the pound. Even though the Chancellor was only implementing policies that the Prime Minister had campaigned to initiate in the recent party leadership contest, he had to go. He was humiliatingly summoned back from an IMF meeting in Washington, DC, and then sacked via social media while his plane was still on the Heathrow tarmac. To paraphrase a famous British political quip from the 1960s, "greater love hath no woman than this, that she lay down her friends for her life."

The fundamental problem for PM Truss is that she's tried to go too far, too fast, too quickly, without shoring up support in her own party. The policies she's tried to introduce weren't part of her party's 2019 election manifesto; though she won the party members' vote, she only ever had the support of a small minority of her own MPs, and she compounded the problem by only appointing immediate loyalists to her cabinet. When global markets reacted so unfavorably to Kwarteng's mini-budget, she had very little support within her own party to lean on. When the PM and the Chancellor proceeded to do a round of disastrous media appearances doubling down on their commitment to their policies, only to then U-turn on policies that just the previous day they were swearing they would never give up on, it only compounded the problem.

How bad is the UK government's instability? Kwarteng only served 38 days in office. Leaving aside a couple of 18th-century interim office holders, he's the second-shortest-serving Chancellor in UK history; and at least Iain Macleod (30 days in 1970) had the excuse of dying in office from a massive heart attack. But that doesn't really tell the whole story. If you merged the terms in office of Kwarteng and his immediate predecessor Nadhim Zahawi (63 days), their combined 101 days in office would still be the second-shortest term for any Chancellor in history—and that for an office that originated in the 13th century. This really is unprecedented turmoil.

Conservative MPs and ministers are meanwhile openly plotting to get rid of Truss herself. Technically, the rules of the Conservative Party don't allow for a leadership challenge during a new leader's first 12 months in post, but party rules are famously open to change. You can now get almost even odds on betting markets as to whether Truss will last the year; there's open speculation over whether she'll last through October. As I write this, Truss has been in office for 40 days. The shortest-ever prime ministerial term (excluding caretaker PMs) was the Marquess of Rockingham's second ministry, which lasted 97 days in 1782. However, Rockingham had previously been PM for a year in the 1760s. The shortest total number of days otherwise served by any PM was George Canning, who served for only 119 days in 1827. But both Rockingham and Canning died in office. The shortest term for any PM who didn't die in office was Robert Peel's first ministry, which lasted 120 days from 1834-1835—but Peel went on to have a brilliant political career, and successfully served another 5 years as PM in the 1840s. It seems unlikely that Truss will follow a similar career path. In any case, that we're now all essentially speculating about when Truss will break these records for shortest terms in office, and not if, really tells you everything you need to know about UK political stability. It's remarkable how quickly a country can become an international political laughingstock when it's so poorly led.

Well, we Americans wouldn't know anything about "how quickly a country can become an international political laughingstock when it's so poorly led," of course, but we appreciate the insights from both of you! (Z)

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---The Votemaster and Zenger
Oct16 It's Backwards Day!
Oct16 Today's Senate Polls
Oct15 The 1/6 Committee Hearings, Day 9: Goodbye, Farewell and Amen
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