stalking horse

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stalking horse (plural stalking horses)

  1. (dated) A horse used as cover by a hunter stalking game.
  2. (idiomatic, politics) A candidate put forward to serve a hidden, ulterior purpose in a political campaign, such as testing the field for another potential candidate by gauging voter sentiment or covertly helping another candidate by attracting voters away from a third candidate.
    • 1842, Ellen Marriage (translator), Honoré de Balzac (author), Albert Savarus, ch. 8:
      The Ministry had their candidate, a stalking-horse, useful only to receive the purely Ministerial votes. The votes, thus divided, gave no result.
    • 2008 May 23, James Graff, "Lost: Labour's Love for Brown," Time (retrieved 22 April 2014):
      Any open challenge would likely come first as trial balloons from backbench "stalking horse" candidates, who could never win.
  3. (idiomatic, by extension) A person, thing, or expedient used in a deceptive manner, to achieve some hidden purpose; a pretext or ruse.
    • 1694, William Congreve, The Double-Dealer, act 2, sc. 4:
      "Do you think my daughter. . . fit for nothing but to be a stalking horse, to stand before you, while you take aim at my wife?"
    • 1833, James Fenimore Cooper, The Headsman, ch. 29:
      "Let the great of the earth give but half the care to prevent, that they show to punish, offences against themselves, and what is now called justice will no longer be a stalking-horse to enable a few to live at the cost of the rest.
    • 1992 May 25, "One for The Loggers," Time (retrieved 22 April 2014):
      Environmentalists have used the owl as a stalking horse to save the last 10% of old-growth forest in the Northwest.
    • 2008 Aug. 27, Kirk Johnson and Eric Lichtblau, "Officials See No ‘Credible Threat’ to Obama in Racist Rants ," New York Times (retrieved 22 April 2014):
      [H]ate groups were increasingly worried that law enforcement authorities would use Mr. Obama’s candidacy as a stalking horse to justify a government clampdown.


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