Readers are trying to guess the identity of the anonymous Republican Senate candidate who seeks distance from the president and his party in today's Washington Post. They're doing it at the National Review Online, too, where a sharp-eyed diner finds clues in Dana Milbank's piece -- hanger steak, a "four-minute egg" -- that put his not-so-secret interview at the Charlie Palmer steakhouse in Washington.
We're highly in favor of such speculation, but a caveat is in order.
Some readers are assuming that Milbank's anonymous politician is a sitting U.S. senator, but Milbank's piece doesn't say that; it describes the man as a Republican "candidate" for the Senate. In the normal sense, that would suggest a contender, not an incumbent, which would narrow the list to a handful of serious challengers like, oh, say, Maryland's border-enforcing, gay-marriage-hating, "ivory tower"-saying, French-cuff-wearing Michael Steele.
But if Scooter Libby can be a "former Hill staffer," then we suppose a sitting U.S. senator can be just a "candidate." And if Milbank's mystery man is an incumbent senator, the shortlist is pretty short indeed. There aren't many Republicans running for reelection in the first place, and there are even fewer who make it through the filter created by Milbank's clues. The "he" thing knocks out Olympia Snowe and Kay Bailey Hutchison; "one of the most competitive Senate races" eliminates Orrin Hatch, Craig Thomas, Richard Lugar, John Ensign, Trent Lott and probably Jon Kyl; support for Bush's positions on gay marriage and stem cell research means it's not Lincoln Chafee; and Jim Talent was off in St. Louis Monday, which is to say that he probably wasn't having lunch at Charlie Palmer's in Washington.
So who's left among the incumbents? By our count, only George Allen, Conrad Burns, Mike DeWine and Rick Santorum. Ah yes, you say, but neither Virginia (Allen) nor Ohio (DeWine) is usually considered a "blue state," and there's an argument to be made that Montana (Burns) isn't much of one anymore. Doesn't that mean that, if it's an incumbent, it's got to be Santorum? No. "Blue state" was the phrase we used this morning; Milbank said only that the candidate hailed from a state where Bush's standing is "low." That's a description that could apply just about everywhere, which probably explains how this parlor game got started in the first place.