If Sen. John F. Kerry's presidential aspirations melt like a dollop of Cheez Whiz in the sun, the trouble may well be traced to an incident in South Philadelphia on Monday.

There, the Massachusetts Democrat went to Pat's Steaks and ordered a cheesesteak -- with Swiss cheese. If that weren't bad enough, the candidate asked photographers not to take his picture while he ate the sandwich; shutters clicked anyway, and Kerry was caught nibbling daintily at his sandwich -- another serious faux pas.

"It will doom his candidacy in Philadelphia," predicted Craig LaBan, food critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, which broke the Sandwich Scandal. After all, Philly cheesesteaks come with Cheez Whiz, or occasionally American or provolone. But Swiss cheese? "In Philadelphia, that's an alternative lifestyle," LaBan explained.

And don't even mention Kerry's dainty bites. "Obviously, Kerry's a high-class candidate, and he misread the etiquette," LaBan said. "Throwing fistfuls of steak into the gaping maw, fingers dripping -- that's the proper way."

For Kerry, a Boston Brahmin, this is something of a sore spot. As he seeks to lose his reputation for $75 Salon Cristophe haircuts, Turnbull & Asser shirts and long fingernails to play classical guitar, he has been seen riding a motorcycle and doing other regular-guy things.

Appearing out of touch with the common man can be deadly for a candidate. Recall George H.W. Bush's wonderment in the 1992 campaign upon coming across a supermarket scanner, and Sargent Shriver's legendary request for a Courvoisier while visiting a milltown bar in 1972.

Kerry spokesman Robert Gibbs insisted that the candidate was "not taking a dainty nibble" of the steak. "I suspect that Kerry was thinking about provolone cheese but became distracted by thinking of the more than 3 million jobs that have slipped through the holes of George W. Bush's economic plan."

The owner of Pat's Steaks, Frank Olivieri, was forgiving, though he points out that Bill Clinton and Al Gore knew to ask for Whiz. "It happens," he said. "I swayed him to the Cheez Whiz. If you're eating in Philadelphia, you eat what I serve you."

At least Kerry didn't ask for Camembert.

Military Strikes Out With Acronym

Maybe it is all about oil.

Since the debate began over war in Iraq, the Bush administration has denied that ousting Saddam Hussein was only about access to petroleum reserves, but left-wing conspiracists have continued to make that claim.

Yesterday, U.S. Central Command issued a news release announcing lightning raids in the remote towns of Ain Lalin and Quara Tapa "to isolate and capture noncompliant forces." The name of the mission: Operation Ivy Lightning. Or, if you prefer the acronym: OIL.

The military has had all kinds of far-out names for its strikes -- last week brought Operation Soda Mountain -- but it has been careful to avoid embarrassing acronyms. In fact, it was rumored that the overall action was called Operation Iraqi Freedom rather than Operation Iraqi Liberation to avoid the very acronym Centcom produced yesterday for the strike by the 4th Infantry Division (or IV Division -- hence the Ivy).

A military spokesman joked, "We struck a dry hole when we tried to find someone to take credit for this one."

Davis May Be Odds Man Out

In the latest case of money in politics, an online betting company is allowing gamblers to wager on the California recall election. Odds have been established for 13 of the more than 200 would-be replacements for Gov. Gray Davis (D).

The favorite at www.BetWWTS.com, no surprise, is Arnold Schwarzenegger at 5:9 odds, meaning the Terminator pays $5 for every $9 bet. Next is Cruz Bustamante at 7:5, Bill Simon at 5:1, and Peter Ueberroth at 8:1. Larry Flynt is a dark horse at 30:1, though he leads Gary Coleman at 50:1.

The horse race doesn't look good for Davis. Odds are 4:15 that he will be recalled.

Sen. John F. Kerry bites into a Philly cheesesteak sandwich during a presidential campaign stop in South Philadelphia.