Stealth Candidate

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, July 26, 2006; 10:34 AM

What was Mi--ah, an unnamed Republican Senate candidate--thinking?

He has lunch with nine Washington reporters, asks them to protect his identity, and thinks it's not going to leak out? Who is he, Valerie Plame? (And why on earth would the scribes agree to such a strange arrangement? We're not talking national security here. No one spilling scandalous revelations. The guy's running for office!)

Beyond that, how does it possibly benefit Lieut--er, this mystery candidate--to vent to a bunch of journalists if he can't be ID'd? Does it help him one iota in his race? (I don't mean race race, I mean election campaign.) I don't get it.

What Monday's lunch did do, though, was set off a guessing game among pundit types -- and an old-fashioned outing.

It all began with Dana Milbank 's WashPost column, which raised the tantalizing question: Which Republican was running so hard to distance himself from President Bush that you could practically hear him panting?

"On the Iraq war: 'It didn't work. . . . We didn't prepare for the peace.'

"On the response to Hurricane Katrina: 'A monumental failure of government.'

"On the national mood: 'There's a palpable frustration right now in the country.'

"It's all fairly standard Democratic boilerplate -- except the candidate is a Republican . And he's getting all kinds of cooperation from the White House, the Republican National Committee and GOP congressional leaders.

"Not that he necessarily wants it. 'Well, you know, I don't know,' the candidate said when asked if he wanted President Bush to campaign for him. Noting Bush's low standing in his home state, he finally added: 'To be honest with you, probably not.' "

ABC's The Note was fast off the mark:

"Quick: where did Sen. DeWine dine yesterday for lunch? (Either we are right, or we have done you all a service and crossed one name off the list.)"

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