Deep in America's heartland there is a man who knows who our next president will be.
He does no polling. He assembles no focus groups. He talks to not a single voter.
His name is Corey Ruzicka. He lives in Mishawaka, Ind. He is a statistician.
And back in 1991 when we had won the Persian Gulf war and George Bush's approval ratings were stratospheric, Ruzicka predicted that Bush would lose re-election to a semi-obscure politician named Bill Clinton.
How does Ruzicka do it? Easy. He looks at the last letter of the last name of each candidate.
"Clinton is going to win," Ruzicka told me back then, "because his name ends in N. Of America's 51 presidential elections, 22 of them have been won by the candidate whose last name ended in N. Would you like me to name the N-enders who won?"
"Washington, Van Buren, Buchanan, William Henry Harrison, Benjamin Harrison, Reagan . . ."
Are these in order?
"No," Ruzicka said. "Jefferson, Lyndon Johnson, Lincoln, Madison, Jackson . . ."
Jesse Jackson was never president! I said. Your list is hooey!
"Not Jesse Jackson, Andrew Jackson," Ruzicka said. "Can I go on?"
There's no need, I said.
"Nixon, Wilson and Truman," Ruzicka said. Swell, I said. But why do Americans like people whose names end in N?
"Your name ends in N," Ruzicka said. Good point.
"Only two times in history have we had major presidential nominees whose name ended in H, and each time the economy has gone to hell," Ruzicka said.
Which two times?
"Al Smith was the Democratic presidential nominee in 1928, and the country then faced the 1929 Depression," Ruzicka said.
But Al Smith lost the presidential race, I said.
"Doesn't matter," Ruzicka said. "His name ended in H."
So who's the other H?
"George Bush," Ruzicka said. "As soon as Bush was nominated I knew the economy would go bad. Everyone thought I was nuts because the economy was robust. But I was right."
Ruzicka's theory gets downright ominous, however, when you look at the last letter of the names of the vice presidential candidates.
"Ten times in history, the election has produced a vice presidential candidate ending in E, and 10 times the winning president was either shot, died in office, lost re-election or resigned," Ruzicka said.
Walter Mondale, for example, was the Democratic vice presidential candidate in 1980, and not only did Jimmy Carter lose, but the Republican winner, Ronald Reagan, was shot.
Dan Quayle was the vice presidential candidate in 1992, and George Bush lost re-election.
It occurred to me the other day, however, that 1996 poses a dilemma for Ruzicka's theory: Though Bill Clinton has a name ending in N, which is good, his vice president, Al Gore, has a name that ends in E, which is bad. So I called Ruzicka to find out what was going to happen.
"Here's the deal," Ruzicka said. "If Clinton makes it to Election Day without something happening to him, he will be re-elected. Ten of the 12 N-ending presidents who have run for re-election have won."
So it looks good for Clinton?
"Not exactly," Ruzicka said. "He has to make it to Election Day. The biggest challenge to Clinton could come from within his own party. Four of the N-ending presidents have decided not to run for a second term."
But two Republicans who have declared for the presidency have N-ending names: Pat Buchanan and Pete Wilson. So don't they have a good chance against Clinton?
"Not really," Ruzicka said. "Incumbent N-enders almost always beat challenger N-enders. No, it's going to be tough to beat Clinton, although the E-ending Gore name is troubling. Without that, Clinton would have clear sailing."
Clinton could dump Gore, of course.
"But he should avoid a running mate with a Y ending or L ending," Ruzicka said. "Both sides should. Whenever we have a Y- or L-ending winning or losing presidential or vice presidential candidate, we have a major war with major casualties within four years."
So maybe Colin Powell should think about a talk show instead.