The Energizer president

By Mark Follman
Published October 13, 2004 6:55PM (EDT)

The conventional wisdom is that a key reason John Kerry selected sunny-faced John Edwards for his running mate was Edwards' strength as a debater, and the belief that he would be an effective foil to dour Dick Cheney. As far as campaigning goes, Edwards has proven himself more than a one-trick pony -- and apparently he's got a knack for comedy as well.

As War Room reported yesterday, the Bush mystery bulge had its network late-night debut during David Letterman's monologue on Monday's "Late Show," but the bulge popped up even more front and center when John Edwards appeared on Jay Leno's "Tonight Show" on Tuesday.

"I think it was his battery," a grinning Edwards told Leno, regarding the phenomenon. "I think tomorrow, before the debate, John Kerry ought to pat him down," Edwards added, ahead of the final round in Arizona tonight.

"So you think it's his battery?" Leno asked.

"Absolutely." Edwards said.

Leno teed it up again for Edwards when he asked the North Carolina senator if he thought he could beat fellow jogger President Bush in a race. Edwards took the opportunity to remind the audience that he played football as a student -- while Bush did a tour of duty on the cheerleading squad. "[Bush] was on the side, with his pompoms," Edwards remarked. "I don't know, can you run fast with those cheerleading outfits on?"

But about that bulge. It may be a serious issue, too -- enough of one that the Economist included a question about it in its latest voter survey. From the Economist press release today:

"Perhaps the most unusual question asked in this week's Economist/YouGov poll was: 'Have you seen the photograph showing the bulge under the back of George Bush's jacket during the TV debate last Friday?" 77% admitted they had not; 23% said, yes indeed, they saw it. When asked what they thought the bulge was caused by, 53% admitted that they didn't know. But, 30% were convinced that the bulge was related to something that allowed his team to communicate with him. 8% disagreed and felt it was caused by something else. Who knew the battle of the bulge would make headlines in this presidential election.'"

Letterman himself saw fit to revisit bulge mania on Tuesday night's "Late Show." And if any of the mystified 53% of voters polled by the Economist tuned in, they would've had more to sink their teeth into.

Dave and Co. featured an episode of "Guess the Bulge," with the assistance of their pal Rupert, the Manhattan corner-store guru and "Late Show" regular. Rupert selected a guest from the street -- Michigan native Allison Berry, currently a musical theater major at NYU -- to feel the bulge on Rupert's back and try to assess its identity.

LETTERMAN: "Rupert, do us a favor and turn around and show Allison your bulge."

A 30-second clock appeared on the screen, as Allison touched the strange lump, and gave it a squeeze. Apparently she missed the voiceover from "Late Show" announcer Alan Kalter hinting at the bulge's contents, but when time was up, Allison delivered: "Is it a steak? she asked. Bells and whistles went off, and indeed it was a T-Bone steak, secured to Rupert's back beneath his shirt.

War Room could not determine if it was Texas free-range. Nor were we sure if it was receiving any audio transmissions.

UPDATE (1:30 p.m. PDT): Big media continues to take an interest in the bulge story -- CNN's Paula Zahn has a helpful poll on her Web page:

"What do you think was behind the bulge on President Bush's jacket during the debates?"

"An electronic device"
88% -- 8216 votes

"A bulletproof vest"
6% -- 565 votes

"Bad tailoring"
2% -- 207 votes

"A vast left-wing conspiracy"
3% -- 316 votes

If that last 3 percent has it right, the Drudge Report hasn't shown any interest. As War Room noted yesterday, thus far the prince of righty gossip has yet to put his own personal touch on the Bush bulge.

Mark Follman

Mark Follman is Salon's deputy news editor. Read his other articles here.

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