Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Leadership 2012 - Candidate What-Ifs

Following up on this post, let's look at a few what-ifs from the NDP's leadership campaign in retrospect - this time wondering how the outcome might have changed from the perspective of the candidates based on choices made during the course of the race. And it's fairly easy to narrow down the list based on those whose campaigns ran about as smoothly as could be expected (Niki Ashton, plus Peggy Nash minus her convention presentation), those who figure to have achieved all they could realistically have hoped for (Martin Singh) and the actual winner (Thomas Mulcair).

Having pared down the list to that extent, here are a few open questions as to how the campaign might have turned out differently...

What if Brian Topp had released full polling data of his own in response to Paul Dewar's poll release?

Again, one of the hazards for those of us trying to interpret the race from the outside was a lack of reliable information about the candidates' actual support levels. And as a result, Dewar's choice to go public with his full polling results had a disproportionate impact in shaping the balance of the campaign.

But Topp could have met transparency with transparency. If indeed he had data showing himself all alone in second place, then he might have avoided the perception of a tightly-bunched pack of challengers to Mulcair by releasing the underlying data in full - which would figure to have set public impressions at worst near the midpoint between the publicly-released polls (including Mulcair's released in the wake of Dewar's). And that in turn would have allowed him to run as a stronger challenger to Mulcair, rather than one of a bunch of candidates whose positioning was uncertain.

Mind you, Topp may instead have decided that he didn't want to be wasting time comparing himself to Dewar in any event, and worried that responding to Dewar's numbers would only give them more attention. And I'm not sure Topp would have done better in the end if the race had polarized more between himself and Mulcair as the two main options - as he came remarkably close even without much perception of momentum near the end of the campaign. But if he had a chance to boost his fortunes just a bit, that could have made all the difference.

What if Robert Chisholm had stayed in the race?

The great question for Paul Dewar doesn't involve anything he could have influenced directly. But with Chisholm's exit, Dewar was left as the weakest French speaker among the candidates left in the race. And that made it all too easy to define Dewar in those terms - where a flailing Chisholm might have made language seem like much less of an issue for Dewar (or anybody else) in comparison.

As it turned out, though, it's also questionable whether Dewar had much of a path to victory in any event. So let's turn to the biggest what-if of all...

What if Nathan Cullen hadn't put joint nominations at the centre of his campaign?

It's fairly clear how Cullen may have seen a need to stand out in the race. And his joint nomination proposal worked wonders in some respects for his campaign - contributing thousands of members signing up solely for the purpose of supporting Cullen, providing a focal point for Cullen's campaign and ensuring that he'd be mentioned often throughout the race.

But of course, the flip side is that Cullen turned off a large number of NDP members from the beginning of the campaign. And while he likely succeeded in winning some of them over by the end, it's a wide open question whether Cullen's personality could have positioned him to emerge from the pack if not for a highly controversial central plank.

As with Topp's conundrum, there's a real possibility that the candidate involved reached the right answer for the purposes of the leadership campaign. And as party allegiances evolve in the years to come, Cullen's choice - winning him a higher profile across not only the NDP membership but the public at large - may have as profound an impact on some future NDP leadership campaign as it did on this year's.

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