- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 6, 2002

Tourist trap

So few tourists have visited the nation's capital since September 11 that Congress' "only member who never has to leave Washington," as she refers to herself, is hosting an unusual reception Tuesday for fellow lawmakers, entitled "Ask Me About Washington."

The purpose of the reception is to "acquaint them with tourist attractions," says D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, the thinking being that the congressmen will then go home and tell constituents about all that Washington has to offer.

Great deeds, men

"Sometimes we get blamed for things that are not our fault. This is, however, often offset by occasions when we can bask in the reflected glory generated by the great deeds of others."

Democratic Rep. Barney Frank, whose 4th Congressional District of Massachusetts is home to the New England Patriots, offering philosophical congratulations to the new Super Bowl champions.

Dewey wins

Early odds very early odds place former Vice President Al Gore as the front-runner for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, should he decide to run again.

Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, meanwhile, says she's still not interested in becoming the nation's first-ever female presidential nominee. Still, one pollster gives her a 2-in-10 chance of winding up on the ballot.

And there's other high-profile Democrats Sens. Tom Daschle, John Kerry, Evan Bayh, Joseph I. Lieberman and Joseph R. Biden Jr. and Rep. Richard A. Gephardt, to name a few who are likely contenders for the nation's highest office, most likely trying to unseat President Bush.

Chances are, barring an uncharacteristically close presidential election like 2000's, that the pollsters will be able to accurately predict the winner well before Election Day. This wasn't always the case.

The history of political polling in America is an intriguing one, beginning for the most part in 1916 when editors of the Literary Digest correctly predicted five straight presidential elections.

"At a time before the development of scientific polling, this record was astonishing," says Stephen K. Medvic, an assistant professor of political science at Old Dominion University and research fellow at the Social Science Research Center.

Then came Halloween Day, 1936. After tallying the preferred candidates of 2 million Americans, he says, the Digest's editors made a bold prediction: Republican Alf Landon would be the next president of the United States.

"The primary cause of the Digest's error was the magazine's practice of mailing mock ballots to people based on telephone and automobile registration," Mr. Medvic explains. "In 1936, during the Great Depression, those with phones, and particularly those with cars, were disproportionately Republican. Since the Digest's sample was skewed, its prediction was flawed."

At the same time, the professor continues, three young independent pollsters, one of them named George Gallup, were able to foresee the Digest's misstep and launched a more scientific approach to polling. Their predictions: a landslide for Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Still, as Mr. Medvic is quick to point out, the science of polling was far from perfected. Just ask Thomas Dewey in 1948. Or, for that matter, Al Gore in 2000.

Future leaders

Congress in recent days bid farewell to a rare class of congressional pages young people like Lindsey Beck from Arizona, Zachary Stanton from Michigan, and Jennifer Hsieh from Texas who, as history would have it, witnessed events unlike any previous class of pages chosen to serve on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Dale. E. Kildee of Michigan, who for the last 20 years has been the ranking Democrat on the House Page Board, says he won't soon forget the unsettling day of September 11 when the hijacked plane crashed into the Pentagon and, like other lawmakers, he whisked his staff away from the U.S. Capitol building.

But while fleeing the shadow of the Capitol rotunda, the congressman couldn't help but notice neatly dressed pages headed in the opposite direction.

"I saw a group of pages coming towards the Capitol building," Mr. Kildee said. "They were supposed to be here, they thought, and I said, 'Get back to the dorm.' Their sense of duty was enormous, although this building could very well have been the target."

Women experts

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Maryland Democrat and chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions aging subcommittee, didn't have to go far to fill her witness list for today's hearing, addressing the reality that women live longer than men and, thus, access public support systems more often.

There are a record 13 female senators serving in this 107th Congress, several of whom have agreed to testify on behalf of fellow women.

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