Bob, San Francisco: What are some of the local issues that might help Maryland citizens decide who they want to be president? Also, I assume that Maryland is probably going to go Democratic, but can you tell me why?

Nitkin: Our polling showed that Marylanders seem to be relying on national issues, not local ones, in deciding whom to support for president. Voters ranked the Iraq war and leadership issues as their top concerns; jobs and the economy and terrorism were also important issues. As for local issues, many Marylanders either work for the federal government, for government contractors, or in industries that rely on the government for funding. These voters may vote their "pocketbooks," deciding which candidate is better for their livelihood.

In Maryland, the voter registration is 2-1 Democratic to Republican, so Democrats usually win in presidential races. Republican wins are not unheard of: Ronald Reagan carried the state in 1984, however, as did George H.W. Bush in 1988. In addition, Maryland has the largest African-American population outside the Deep South -- about 28 percent. Black voters tend to be Democrats, but of course are not monolithic in their voting decisions.

John Stevens, Taneytown: Do most people you talk to think [Comptroller] William Donald Schaefer should retire?

Nitkin: As a political reporter, I'm sure I don't talk to a representative sample of Marylanders, but hopefully our pollster did! We found that 54 percent of registered voters said Schaefer should continue to do his job as comptroller; 36 percent said he should step down, and 10 percent were not sure. However, 59 percent of voters agreed with the statement "He was a good public official but his day has passed." As a whole, I think many Marylanders are shocked by some of Schaefer's statements on AIDS and immigrants, but at the same time realize that he is speaking from the heart -- not from a playbook, and appreciate both his frankness and his continuing legacy as a public servant.

Lorenzo, Baltimore: Can someone so entrenched like Sen. Barbara Mikulski really be beaten here in Maryland?

Nitkin: Well, Lorenzo, entrenched is certainly a loaded word, and one that I would avoid. But our polling showed that Mikulski remains one of, if not the most popular politicians in Maryland. Sixty-four percent of registered voters said they had a favorable impression of her, compared with 28 percent unfavorable -- for a net 36-point favorability rating that was the highest of any politician we surveyed. By comparison, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s net was 24 points, and Mayor Martin O'Malley's was 29 points.

Mikulski is widely regarded as a fighter for Maryland's interests, and is good at constituent service. So, bottom line: she won't be beaten in Maryland this year.

Ron, Pikesville: Why is your paper so liberal and biased against Republicans? Your paper reports what it wants -- how come never the complete truth?

Nitkin: Ron, when people say "the paper" is biased, I hope they make the distinction -- which is crucial to us and all other legitimate papers -- between the editorial board, its writers and opinions and the news report that appears on all other pages. Reporters and editors are interested in reporting the news, be it good, bad or ugly. To be sure, more often than not, stories regarded as "bad news" -- crimes, fires, indictments, plane crashes -- get more play and attention than "good news." But that's more a function of limited reporting resources and column inches on our pages than a desire to promote the bad over the good.

One of the most important functions that reporters serve at the paper is shining a spotlight on government -- city, county, state and federal -- and asking tough questions about whether office-holders and public servants are doing their jobs properly. We strive to ask those questions regardless of party affiliation.

Reporters and editors are always willing to listen to concerns about whether facts were omitted from stories, and may even have a good explanation if they were!

Amanda, Delmar: Who would vote for [presidential candidate Sen. John] Kerry when he voted against the Laci Peterson law?

Nitkin: Amanda, I'm not familiar with the Laci Peterson law, but senators cast hundreds of votes a year on a variety of issues. Individual votes can certainly haunt them, or be used against them. Legislating is the art of compromising. Perhaps that's one reason that a U.S. senator has not been elected president since John Kennedy in 1960.

James E. Merna, Lanham: Why doesn't the state and counties have demonstrations of the new electronic voting machines at public places such as libraries, etc? I have a brother who needs such assistance, and none is available.

Nitkin: James, I've seen many demonstrations of these machines at fairs, festivals and elsewhere. The state has spent a lot of money on an outreach effort. Some counties have mailed directions on how to use them, along with sample ballots. Perhaps you might want to contact the Prince George's County elections board, at 301-952-3270, to find out if a machine is on display somewhere. Additionally, the county elections board Web site (click here) has a live display of the machines.

Henry Harle, Glen Burnie: Does this mean you are endorsing Kerry? (Like I really needed to ask.)

Nitkin: Henry, I haven't seen our paper's endorsement yet, and am not involved in that decision. To be sure, I won't be surprised if the editorial page editors decide to endorse Kerry.

John Melville, Baltimore: With the increase in requests for absentee ballots this year, what are the chances that some of those who requested them by the deadline won't receive them by Election Day?