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Political Terms: The Dark Horse Who Emerged As A Front Runner

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    NEWSLETTERS

    AP Images

    The headline in Slate: “How Obama is Trying to Redefine the Race in the Home Stretch.”

    The headline in the Washington Post: “Obama and Romney, neck and neck, hit campaign trail for final push.”

    Horse racing is not the popular fascination it used to be. Before World War II, it was one of America’s Big Three sports, along with boxing and baseball. Now, Hawthorne Race Course is lucky to draw 500 degenerates for a weekday afternoon card. But it has left a linguistic legacy in the world of politics. In fact, many terms that originated at the track are probably best known now as clichés of political journalese. Such as:

    Stretch run: The stretch run is the straightaway between the final turn and the finish line. This is an anxious place for the…

    Front runner: The horse in the lead. Also the candidate in the lead. Before the debates, the Washington Post called Obama “the clear front-runner.” The front runner has to watch out for a late charge from…

    The closer: The closer is a horse who specializes in running near the back of the pack for most of the race, then winning with a final sprint. Journalists used to write that John Kerry was a “good closer” because he campaigned well in the final weeks of an election. He wasn’t a good enough closer to beat George W. Bush, even though for most of the 2004 campaign, the two were running…

    Neck and neck: When two horses are running closely together, they’re said to be running neck and neck. That’s also a margin of victory, a bit wider than a nose or a head, measured when horses come in…

    Under the wire
    : There’s a wire above the finish line of every racetrack. That’s why, if you register to vote, cast your vote or make a donation at the last available hour, you’re said to be getting it in under the wire.

    And then, of course, there’s the term dark horse, which is used in politics to describe a previously unknown candidate who emerges to win his party’s nomination. That, of course, originated at the track, to refer to a longshot winner.