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front runner

or front-run·ner, front·run·ner

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noun
  1. a person who leads in any competition.
  2. an entrant in a race who breaks to the front immediately and establishes the pace for the field.
  3. an entrant in a race who performs well only when ahead of the field.
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Origin of front runner

An Americanism dating back to 1935–40
Dictionary.com Unabridged Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2018

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British Dictionary definitions for frontrunner

frontrunner

noun
  1. informal the leader or a favoured contestant in a race, election, etc
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Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition © William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012

Word Origin and History for frontrunner

n.

also front-runner, of political candidates, 1908, American English, a metaphor from horse racing (where it is used by 1903 of a horse that runs best while in the lead).

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Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper