From the start of the NDP's leadership campaign, I've been just one of many commentators anticipating a final ballot of Thomas Mulcair vs. Peggy Nash. But while Mulcair still looks like a safe bet, Nash is looking less so - and the factors at play in that assessment match my take on her as a candidate.
1. What direction will she set for the NDP?
Based on her longtime involvement with the NDP and the labour movement, Nash seems to have calculated that she doesn't need to prove her left-wing bona fides with appeals comparable to Brian Topp's call for higher taxes on the wealthy. And a result, her plans have actually played just as well in the press as with party members (though there's plenty to like in her party-building proposal as well).
Despite that strategic choice, I'd still classify her as the candidate who would figure to implement the most progressive policy program over the course of a term of majority government. And yes, I see that as a massive plus.
2. How will she respond when pushed off course?
But in order to have a chance to implement any of her policies, she'll need to show far better political instincts than she has in the course of the leadership campaign.
At times her difficulties have involved completely unforced errors - such as somehow mentioning the gun registry in response to a question on how to win in Western Canada. At others she's fallen into strategic traps set by opponents, such as Paul Dewar's question about user fees. And in many cases she's simply failed to adapt to circumstances; in the question periods of at least a couple of recent debates she's stuck to lines of questioning which merely duplicated in weaker terms what the candidate immediately before her had already asked.
But the common denominator has been regular difficulty in responding quickly to the types of immediate pressures that face a leader of the Official Opposition every day. And it's hard to see much prospect of improvement at this late stage of the leadership campaign.
3. How do her personal traits affect her ability to reach the destination implied by the answer to question 1?
Aside from that problem, Nash has acquitted herself well in the leadership campaign, addressing concerns about her ability to inspire a crowd while also making a conscious effort to run a more positive campaign than some of her competitors. And even when she's gone off course, her campaign has normally put matters back on track in fairly short order.
But it won't be so easy to make up for any questions about unsure political footing once a new leader faces a Con government eager to spread banana peels everywhere then run attack ads about a lack of balance. Which is why Nash has gone from being my initial first choice to near the bottom of my ballot - and why NDP members may need to tread carefully in approaching Nash's candidacy.
[Edit: fixed wording.]