Knowns, unknowns and the Ketchup Kid is the rather amusing title of Mark Steyn’s latest piece. He explains that we shouldn’t put much stock in polls pitting President Bush against various challengers:

The American media are all excited about a new poll showing that, come the election, Massachusetts Senator John Kerry would beat George W Bush by 49 per cent to 46 per cent. Back in September, they were all excited about a poll showing Gen Wesley Clark would beat Bush by — guess what? — 49 per cent to 46 per cent. Even the lively Vermont governor Howard Dean had a poll putting him within the margin of error against Bush. Yet here we are just a few months later: the Vermonster self-detonated on Iowa caucus night, and Gen Clark will be lucky to hold on to fourth place in today’s New Hampshire primary.

I know a lot of folks on both sides of the Atlantic are salivating at the arrogant Texas cowboy’s impending demise, but these polls are meaningless for several reasons, the most important of which is that they’re measuring a “known” — Bush — against an “unknown” — some hitherto obscure figure suddenly proclaimed as the Democratic frontrunner. When the unknown becomes known, his numbers slide and the media and the Dems go off in search of a new white knight. Last week, things were so desperate that the only fellow left for the white-knight role was John Kerry, Vietnam veteran and spouse of ketchup heiress Theresa Heinz. Hitherto, the somnolent Kerry had been written off as remote and detached, but these are small sins next to angry (Dean) and kooky (Clark). The Ketchup Kid is a default choice, the least unwhite knight. In the weeks ahead, he too will become known.


In New Hampshire, it’s already happening. I don’t believe these polls showing him with a double-digit lead. Here’s my sense of how things will go today, based on nothing more scientific than a weekend winter-sports break over on the eastern side of the state and a chat with the waitress in the Littleton Diner on the way back to my pad in western New Hampshire.

Serious field research! Results to follow:

She’d had pretty much every candidate host events at the diner except Dean and Lyndon Larouche, whose campaign wanted to hold a shindig there but got turned down. Larouche is the guy who thinks the Queen is an international drugs kingpin (or, in this case, queenpin) secretly running the world on her cocaine profits. Compared with some of the wackier utterances of Dean and Clark, the House of Windsor drug cartel is one of the less fanciful notions this primary season. At the rate the white knights are tripping over their feet of clay, Larouche could well be the frontrunner by March, with his face on the cover of Newsweek and a poll showing he’d beat Bush 49 per cent to 46 per cent, if Prince Philip doesn’t have him taken out by a hit team first.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.