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Thursday, August 26, 2004

Big Game Voter Hunting - The Hunt for the Elusive Undecided Voter

As the election draws nearer, I'm becoming more and more adamantly pro-Kerry. Though I'm not an independent swing voter by definition, since I'm not a Bush hater, I'm closer to an independent, undecided voter than many other Kerry supporters. Like me, many Kerry supporters are desperate to get people to vote for Kerry. Unfortunately, many Kerry supporters don't seem to have a clue about how to convert voters since they don't understand how anybody could possibly be not voting for Kerry. If this describes you, I've decided to put together a few paragraphs describing how to hunt and bag voters and transform them into Kerry voters.

Concentrate on undecided voters. Just as there is no way in hell that you'd vote for Bush under any circumstance (short of sudden onset dementia), there is no possible way you'll convince a Bush supporter to vote for Kerry. Ain't gonna happen. No way, no how. Don't waste your time on people who have already decided to vote for Bush.

Don't waste your time on voters registered in states that are already decided. In other words, in states where the polling is currently so lopsided that almost nothing can possibly change the outcome. These states are Washington, D.C., Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New York for Kerry and Alabama, Alaska, Georgia, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, and Wyoming for Bush. One possible exception is New York. There are tens of thousands of "snowbirds" who are registered to vote in both New York and Florida. If you know them, make sure they cast a ballot in Florida. Even if you live in one of the above States, surely you must know friends and family in another state. Find the undecided voters among them.

Identifying the quarry requires some subtlety. Several people have told me that they don't know any undecided voters at all. Everyone they know is voting for Kerry, they tell me. Well, that's great! The funny thing is, I know some of the same people they know and I'm pretty sure some of them are still undecided.

Here's the deal. You probably know undecided voters. But if you interject comments like "Bush is the worse president ever and if I find out anybody's even considering voting for Bush I'm gonna gouge their eyes out with a hot poker" and then ask "by the way, who are voting for?", then perhaps, just perhaps, not everybody around you is going to give you an open and honest answer. I know this is hard to believe, but even if you don't threaten violence, comments like "only a total moron would vote for Bush" tend to incent undecided voters to give you the impression that they are voting for Kerry, even if they are still undecided.

The easiest way to find undecided voters is to pretend to be an undecided voter yourself. Don't want to lie? Politics is about lying, anything is fair game, so get over it. Worried that other friends might gouge your eyes out with a hot poker when they hear you say your considering voting for Bush? Well, that's just a chance you'll have to take - this election is important, the risk is worth it. Unfortunately, if you've regularly been throwing out anti-Bush comments with apoplectic rage, then you've already blown it - nobody's going to believe you when you claim to be undecided. In this case, the best thing you can do is stay out of the way of friends who haven't been quite so blatantly vitriolic with the hope that they may be able to target and convert the elusive undecided voter.

In order to find an undecided voter, lay low and watch people's reactions to political statements. For example, if, at a party, someone comments that anyone who votes for Bush should be thrown in jail for criminally negligent stupidity, look for a listener who laughs nervously and maybe nods in agreement, but says little in response. That might be an undecided voter!

Now, separate him or her from the rest of the herd (I mean group). Try a casual line like "I'm having trouble deciding who to vote for in this election. I don't like Bush's stance on X, but I also have trouble with Kerry's position on Y. What do you think?" Try not to compare Bush to Hitler. Try not to call attention to Bush's lack of intelligence. I know that will be brutally difficult, but trust me, if you use one of those comparisons, the quarry is likely to flee.

With any luck, the quarry will admit to being an undecided voter. You need to refrain from moving too fast. Any sudden movements or strong partisan statements can spook an undecided voter. Remain calm no matter how frustrating your interactions are with this idiot. Don't get preachy, don't start spewing facts. In fact, facts can be your greatest enemy. The bad news is that the quarry has already heard numerous times what a disastrous president Bush has been on both the foreign policy and economic fronts, yet the quarry is still undecided. For some reason, the facts don't seem to make a difference to the quarry. There is no new information that you can provide the quarry that is going to make a difference.

The good news is that the quarry is still undecided. The next step is to listen to the quarry to find out what sorts of things he likes about Kerry and dislikes about Bush. The goal here is to reinforce those things, repetitively and with subtlety. Please note the word subtlety. Once again, that's subtlety. Do not bludgeon the quarry. Patience is everything. Again, the goal is to reinforce those things important to the quarry that will push him to vote for Kerry. You need to reinforce those reasons to vote for Kerry that are important to the quarry even if you think they are the dumbest, most asinine possible reasons.

Sending links to articles is a good way to help reinforce points. Ask the quarry what his favorite news sites are. Restrict yourself to sending him articles from only those sites. He may pick sites that are repulsive to you, but remember, he's undecided, so chances are, if you scan those sites you'll find articles that reinforce those things important to the quarry that will convince him to vote for Kerry. Do not, under any circumstances, send him links to or! While those are great sites with terrific information, they are simply too, too much for your average undecided voter.

Follow these simple steps, keep at it, and you may convert some voters. Good luck, the future of the country depends on you!

Monday, August 23, 2004

Grokster Wins!

Grokster, which produces peer-to-peer file sharing software, was sued by MGM (representing the motion picture and recording industries) for enabling infringement of copyright. If the plaintiffs had won, I believe it would have been a tragic blow to the developers of Internet technologies. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in Grokster's favor. According to Grokster's website, the "ruling clarified four important points":
  • The Court made clear that, for purposes of the "Betamax defense" announced by the Supreme Court in 1984, the important question is whether a technology is merely capable of a substantial noninfringing use, not the proportion of noninfringing to infringing uses. The opposite rule, urged by the entertainment industry, would kill off new technologies prematurely, as infringing uses tend to be common until the incumbent entertainment industries adjust their business models to take advantage of the new opportunities created by the new technology. (When there were no pre-recorded videocassettes, the VCR was doubtless used for more infringement than it was after there were Blockbusters on every corner.)
  • The Court also explained that, in order to trump the Betamax defense, a copyright owner must show that the technology developer had (1) knowledge of specific infringments (2) at a time when it could do something about those infringements. The entertainment industry, in contrast, had argued that it should be enough to simply deliver a pile of "infringement notices" to the technology developer after the fact. Such a rule would have all kinds of companies in peril. (Imagine Xerox receiving a pile of infringement notices about photocopiers that it had sold the year before -- should it be liable for infringing activities at every Kinko's in America?)
  • The Court also clarified that copyright law does not require technology developers to design only the technologies that the entertainment industry would approve. The plaintiffs had argued that vicarious liability principles should be interpreted to require that all innovators design their technologies to minimize the possibility of infringing uses. Of course, short of inviting Hollywood lawyers into engineering meetings, such a rule would have left innovators subject to eternal legal harassment for "not doing enough."
  • Finally, and perhaps most important, the Court observed that, in the long run, a competive, unfettered market for innovation ends up helping copyright owners (even if it doesn't help today's entertainment industry oligopolists). In fact, today's ruling will likely be remembered as yet another example of the courts rescuing the entertainment industry from its own short-sightedness. In the words of the Court, "Further, as we have observed, we live in a quicksilver technological environment with courts ill-suited to fix the flow of internet innovation. The introduction of new technology is always disruptive to old markets, and particularly to those copyright owners whose works are sold through wellestablished distribution mechanisms. Yet, history has shown that time and market forces often provide equilibrium in balancing interests, whether the new technology be a player piano, a copier, a tape recorder, a video recorder, a personal computer, a karaoke machine, or an MP3 player."
Now, if they only made a Linux client, I could use them...

Thursday, August 12, 2004

Risk, Utility, and Iraq

Each person has a different amount of aversion to risk. The level of aversion to risk also varies by subject. For example, someone may ride motorcycles but be unwilling to fly in airplanes, even knowing the exact rational probabilities of injury or death from the two different activities.

In utility theory, risk is subjective, but can be quantified. After the risk is quantified, tools can be used to analyze problems to arrive at optimal solutions.

As an example of how risk aversion might be characterized for a given individual for a given subject, consider the following. Let's say an individual is 50 years old with total net worth of $500,000 and is trying to balance their portfolio in order to maximize his or her risk adjusted return, where the risk reflects his or her subjective utility as opposed to standard risk adjustment methods based on volatility. The individual might be asked if they would bet their entire net worth for a 99% chance at 10 times that net worth. Then a 90%, 50%, 25%, etc. chance. Then for a chance at 8 times, 5 times, etc. the net worth. Then the bet limited to a half, quarter, etc. of the net worth. Different time frames for the bet would also have to be explored.

From these number, a multi-dimensional risk profile can be created, which then allows an objective analysis to maximize the expected risk adjusted return of the portfolio going forward. The general idea is that some individuals assign such low utility to any approach that can produce outcomes with any losses at all that it makes sense for them to invest very conservatively. Others aren't concerned in the least with downside, and for them a maximally aggressive strategy is optimal.

Neither investing approach is inherently correct, better, or right for everybody. The approach is and must be based on subjective preferences. It is also important to understand that if by the above analysis an individual rationally chooses a highly aggressive investment strategy, it was the right choice, even if it turns out that the investment strategy produced large losses going forward. It doesn't mean that the individual was stupid or crazy, just that the individual was unlucky.

Now consider Iraq. Invading Iraq had/has many potential downsides, many of which were/are horribly catastrophic. Invading Iraq also had/has potential upsides. In this case, each voter wants to optimize his or her utility with respect to invading Iraq and vote for representatives based on that utility.

Like the above financial example, the utility profile of an individual voter with regard to our approach to Iraq could be estimated. Unlike the above financial example, once the utility profile is created, we can't restrict ourselves to objective mathematics to find the optimal solution (i.e., whether or not to invade, occupy, assist, etc.) since the information regarding the likelihood of each outcome is extremely sparse and unreliable, forcing intuitive and subjective analysis.

However, the point is that even if the information regarding Iraq were perfect and the analysis perfectly rational, the utility to each individual voter regarding our approach to Iraq and the possible outcomes would still vary substantially because of each person's subjective risk profile for this subject. Also, even if Iraq ends catastrophically, it doesn't mean it was the wrong thing to do. Vice-versa, if it ends well, it doesn't mean invading Iraq was the right thing to do. The decisions are inherently affected by subjective utility.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Boots Bails on Blogging

That's too bad. I thoroughly enjoyed Jim's input and have the utmost respect for him. However, if the benefits of participating are insufficient for Jim, I certainly support his decision to end his participation in this blog. On the other hand, he's obviously welcome to return in the future if he so chooses.

I don't find Jim's perspective off-kilter. We're both Democrats and are voting for Kerry. We agree on drug policy, almost completely agree on what things government should spend money on, and agree on a variety of other things. I find it much more interesting to discuss topics where I don't agree with others so our differences have been accentuated.

I will certainly continue to blog. I thoroughly enjoy writing and the blog allows me to organize and archive my thoughts.

I am also contemplating recruiting other participants. We'll see who I can dig up over time.

Stay tuned!

Friday, August 06, 2004

Last Words

It seems to me that respect is waning among contributors to this blog. Perhaps it is a reflection of the state of dialogue in the country at large. To the extent there is blame to be doled out for this state, I accept my share of it.

Bret, it is my opinion that you get so caught up in minutiae that you cannot see the big picture. Howie, anyone who so closely affiliates himself with Zell Miller and the policies of the Bush administration as you do is a person beyond which I have any interest in having a political discussion. Based on your postings, I have no doubt that you two find my perspective equally off-kilter.

The benefits of sharing my ideas and considering yours through this forum have become insufficient for me. I'm sure I can use my time more productively. This will be my last interaction with this blog.


Weak Employment Numbers

Reuters report U.S. Employment Growth Surprisingly Weak in July:

U.S. employers added a paltry 32,000 workers to payrolls last month, the government said on Friday in a report far weaker than expected that will come as unwelcome news for President George W. Bush ahead of the presidential election.

The Labor Department also cut its tally of job growth for May and June by a combined 61,000.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

An Illogical Perspective

I had difficulty following a ContraCostaTimes article Jim linked and requested that he point me at the paragraphs he found most interesting. He responded with these:
In October 2002, the CIA told Congress "the Brits have exaggerated this issue." The same month, CIA Director George Tenet told the White House to remove a reference to African uranium from a key speech because the reporting behind it "was weak." Key documents on sales of Niger uranium were found to be forged.

We still don't know why the White House included the discredited reference to Iraq and African uranium in the State of the Union. Maybe Iraq would have liked to purchase African uranium, but there's still no solid evidence to back this up. And you won't find new evidence in the Senate report.
I've read Lord Butler's report on the matter as well as numerous other articles that strongly refute and discount the above paragraphs. I'll show my analysis sentence by sentence (though not in order):
Key documents on sales of Niger uranium were found to be forged.
Documents were indeed found to be forged. However, they were not "key." From the Butler report:
The British Government had intelligence from several different sources indicating that this visit was for the purpose of acquiring uranium. Since uranium constitutes almost three-quarters of Nigers exports, the intelligence was credible. [...]
The forged documents were not available to the British Government at the time its assessment was made, and so the fact of the forgery does not undermine it.
In other words, the forged documents had no impact on the assessment.
In October 2002, the CIA told Congress "the Brits have exaggerated this issue."
Though the article doesn't provide context, I recall that there was some exaggeration regarding whether or not uranium was actually purchased, but Bush only claimed that it was "sought," not purchased.
The same month, CIA Director George Tenet told the White House to remove a reference to African uranium from a key speech because the reporting behind it "was weak."
True. However, the CIA had learned about the forged documents at about that time and possibly didn't understand the extent of the British Intelligence at the time. In any case, note that the most damning that could be said was that it was weak, not that it was false. Also, I personally give higher credibility to British Intelligence than our own.
We still don't know why the White House included the discredited reference to Iraq and African uranium in the State of the Union.
It looks to me that it only remains "discredited" to those who hate Bush. From the standpoint of pure logic, I can't find an analysis that leads me to the same conclusion.
Maybe Iraq would have liked to purchase African uranium, but there's still no solid evidence to back this up. And you won't find new evidence in the Senate report.
We can debate what it means for evidence to be "solid", but ironically, even the Niger travel report by Joe Wilson, who was and is one of Bush's fiercest critics, shows up "new" in the Senate report and supports the assertion that "Iraq would have liked to purchase African uranium:"
The Senate report said Wilson brought back denials of any Niger-Iraq uranium sale, and argued that such a sale wasn't likely to happen. But the Intelligence Committee report also reveals that Wilson brought back something else as well -- evidence that Iraq may well have wanted to buy uranium.

Wilson reported that he had met with Niger's former Prime Minister Ibrahim Mayaki, who said that in June 1999 he was asked to meet with a delegation from Iraq to discuss "expanding commercial relations" between the two countries.
Based on what Wilson told them, CIA analysts wrote an intelligence report saying former Prime Minister Mayki "interpreted 'expanding commercial relations' to mean that the (Iraqi) delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales." In fact, the Intelligence Committee report said that "for most analysts" Wilson's trip to Niger "lent more credibility to the original Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports on the uranium deal."

So the two paragraphs from the ContraCostaTimes, like the rest of the article, makes a series of assertions that look to me to be false and/or irrelevant. And that's why I had trouble following the article.

Remember, I'm voting for Kerry. I'd be quite happy if I could find more convincing (to me) evidence that I should do that. Sadly, that evidence is extremely thin.

Me 'n Zell

See Y'All in New York
Why I skipped the Boston convention.

BY ZELL MILLER Saturday, July 31, 2004 12:01 a.m. EDT

Twelve years ago, I delivered one of the keynote addresses on the first night at the Democratic National Convention in New York. It was a stinging rebuke of the administration of George H.W. Bush and a ringing endorsement of Bill Clinton. This summer I'll again be speaking in New York, but it will be to the Republican Convention that renominates George W. Bush.

Many have asked how I could have come so far in just over a decade. Frankly, I don't think I've changed much at all. At 72, I don't feel much need to change my opinions. Instead, the reason I didn't attend the Democratic Convention in Boston is that I barely recognize my party anymore. Most of its leaders--including our nominee, John Kerry--don't hold the same beliefs that have motivated my career in public service.

In 1992, I spoke of the opportunity and hope that allowed me, the son of a single mother growing up in the North Georgia mountains, to become my state's governor. And I attributed much of my success to the great Democratic presidents of years gone by--FDR (a hallowed man in my home), Truman and JFK. The link these men shared was a commitment to helping Americans born into any condition rise to achieve whatever goal they set for themselves.

I spoke of Americans who were "tired of paying more in taxes and getting less in services." I excoriated Republicans who "dealt in cynicism and skepticism." I accused them of mastering "the art of division and diversion." And I praised Bill Clinton as a moderate Democrat "who has the courage to tell some of those liberals who think welfare should continue forever, and some of those conservatives who think there should be no welfare at all, that they're both wrong."

Bill Clinton did deliver on welfare reform, after a lot of prodding from the Republicans who took hold of Congress in 1995. But much of the rest of the promise I saw in his candidacy withered during his two terms in office.

Today, it's the Democratic Party that has mastered the art of division and diversion. To run for president as a Democrat these days you have to go from interest group to interest group, cap in hand, asking for the support of liberal kingmakers. Mr. Kerry is no different. After Hollywood elites profaned the president, he didn't have the courage to put them in their place. Instead, he validated their remarks, claiming that they represent "the heart and soul of America."

No longer the party of hope, today's Democratic Party has become Mr. Kerry's many mansions of cynicism and skepticism. As our economy continues to get better and businesses add jobs, Mr. Kerry's going around America trying to convince people that the roof is about to cave in. He talks about "the misery index" and the Depression. What does he know about either?

And when it comes to taxes and services, you'd be pressed to find anyone more opposed to the interests of middle-class Americans than John Kerry. Except maybe John Edwards. Both voted against tax relief for married couples, tax relief for families with children, and tax relief for small businesses. Now Mr. Kerry wants to raise taxes on hundreds of thousands of small-business owners and millions of individuals. He claims to be for working people, but I don't understand how small businesses can create jobs if they've got to send more money to Washington instead of keeping it to hire workers.

Worst of all, Sens. Kerry and Edwards have not kept faith with the men and women who are fighting the war on terror--most of whom come from small towns and middle-class families all over America. While Mr. Bush has stood by our troops every step of the way, Messrs. Kerry and Edwards voted to send our troops to war and then voted against the money to give them supplies and equipment--not to mention better benefits for their families. And recently Mr. Kerry even said he's proud of that vote. Proud to abandon our troops when they're out in the field? I can hear Harry Truman cussing from his grave.

I still believe in hope and opportunity and, when it comes right down to it, Mr. Bush is the man who represents hope and opportunity. Hope for a safer world. And opportunity for Americans to work hard, keep more of the money they earn, and send their kids to good schools. All the speeches we heard this week weren't able to hide the truth of what today's Democratic Party has become: an enclave of elites paying lip service to middle-class values. Americans looking for a president who understands their struggles and their dreams should tune in next month, when we celebrate the leadership of George W. Bush.

Mr. Miller is a Democratic senator from Georgia.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

A Conservative's Perspective on Bush

For those who don't know, Charley Reese is a columnist for the King Features syndicate. He turns out three columns a week and is known as a committed conservative. Few liberal journalists have unloaded on Bush like this. His bio follows the article.


Vote For A Man, Not A Puppet
By Charley Reese
© 2004 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

Americans should realize that if they vote for President Bush's re-election, they are really voting for the architects of war --- Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and the rest of that cabal of neoconservative ideologues and their corporate backers.

I have sadly come to the conclusion that President Bush is merely a front man, an empty suit, who is manipulated by the people in his administration. Bush has the most dangerously simplistic view of the world of any president in my memory.

It's no wonder the president avoids press conferences like the plague. Take away his cue cards and he can barely talk. Americans should be embarrassed that an Arab king (Abdullah of Jordan) spoke more fluently and articulately in English than our own president at their joint press conference recently.

John Kerry is at least an educated man, well-read, who knows how to think and who knows that the world is a great deal more complex than Bush's comic-book world of American heroes and foreign evildoers. It's unfortunate that in our poorly educated country, Kerry's very intelligence and refusal to adopt simplistic slogans might doom his presidential election efforts.

But Thomas Jefferson said it well, as he did so often, when he observed that people who expect to be ignorant and free expect what never was and never will be.

People who think of themselves as conservatives will really display their stupidity, as I did in the last election, by voting for Bush. Bush is as far from being a conservative as you can get. Well, he fooled me once, but he won't fool me twice.

It is not at all conservative to balloon government spending, to vastly increase the power of government, to show contempt for the Constitution and the rule of law, or to tell people that foreign outsourcing of American jobs is good for them, that giant fiscal and trade deficits don't matter, and that people should not know what their government is doing. Bush is the most prone-to-classify, the most secretive president in the 20th century.

His administration leans dangerously toward the authoritarian.

It's no wonder that the Justice Department has convicted a few Arab-Americans of supporting terrorism. What would you do if you found yourself arrested and a federal prosecutor whispers in your ear that either you can plea-bargain this or the president will designate you an enemy combatant and you'll be held incommunicado for the duration?

This election really is important, not only for domestic reasons, but because Bush's foreign policy has been a dangerous disaster. He's almost restarted the Cold War with Russia and the nuclear arms race. America is not only hated in the Middle East, but it has few friends anywhere in the world thanks to the arrogance and ineptness of the Bush Administration. Don't forget, a scientific poll of Europeans found us, Israel, North Korea and Iran as the greatest threats to world peace.

I will swallow a lot of petty policy differences with Kerry to get a man in the White House with brains enough not to blow up the world and us with it. Go to Kerry's Web site ( and read some of the magazine profiles on him. You'll find that there is a great deal more to Kerry than the GOP attack dogs would have you believe.

Besides, it would be fun to have a president who plays hockey, windsurfs, rides motorcycles, plays the guitar, writes poetry and speaks French. It would be good to have a man in the White House who has killed people face to face. Killing people has a sobering effect on a man and dispels all illusions about war.

© 2004 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.


Charley Reese makes his case in clear, concise prose. "It's not important to me if people agree or disagree with my point of view," he says. "What I hope my column does is provoke people into thinking about issues, about the world, and their place in it."

Reese, a conservative columnist, does not mince words. In his column, which King Features Syndicate distributes three times a week to more than 150 newspapers, he does not hesitate to take a stand and back it up to the end.

Charley Reese was born Jan. 19, 1937, in Washington, Ga. He was raised there, in eastern Texas and northwest Florida. By the time he was 19, he had worked as a janitor, printer, cub reporter, civil servant and caption writer for Plant News Pictures, Ltd. in London.

In 1955, he began his career at the Pensacola News in Florida as a cub reporter. For the next 10 years, he worked at various newspapers, honing his craft by reporting everything from sports to politics. Between 1969 and 1971, he worked as a campaign staffer for gubernatorial, senatorial and congressional races in several states. He joined The Orlando Sentinel in 1971 as assistant metro editor. He later became assistant to the publisher, then columnist and editorial board member. He has traveled to Europe and the Middle East on
assignments, all the while maintaining his distinctly American style of journalism.

Reese served two years of active duty in the Army and received an honorary doctorate from Webber College in Florida. He has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize and voted the best columnist in Florida by both the Florida Press Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. He is the author of four books, including Great Gods of the Potomac, and was the ghost writer of The Eleventh Hour by Gen. Lewis Walt.

An American foundation commissioned Reese to write a study of the Swiss national defense system.

A Different View of the 9/11 Report

Here's a perspective on the 9/11 Commission Report which addresses the article Bret referred to in a recent post.

Monday, August 02, 2004

An Interesting Political Quote

From a roundup of foreign newspapers opinions of John Kerry's chances in November by the BBC:
To a great degree there is no Democratic party candidate John Kerry. There is an abstract "anti-Bush" candidate who has been compelled, in accordance with the US electoral system, to take on human form and assume a human name...
The quote is apparently from some Russian rag call Russky Kuryer.

I'd agree with that description. Nonetheless (or perhaps because of this), I'm still following my usual voting algorithm. First I vote for split government. Since the House and/or Senate are quite likely to be Republican, I will support the "abstact anti-Bush candidate" who has taken on the "human form" of John Kerry. However, if he is winning by a wide margin in California when I go to vote (I always vote just before the polls close), I will vote for Bush to help keep California "in play". The concept is that if political contests are close in a given state, both parties pay more attention to the needs of that state.