Before I start taking an individual look at the candidates in Saskatchewan's 2013 NDP leadership campaign, I'll point out a few areas of discussion from past leadership races which don't look to be matters of great distinction between the candidates this time out.
As I've noted before, I tend to see endorsements as a threshold issue with diminishing returns for a candidate. Aside from a basic level of publicly-stated support required to establish a candidate as a serious presence in a race (and subject to any surprising endorsements against type which help to change perceptions of the candidate), there's relatively little to be gained by listing names of supporters or serving up boilerplate endorsements.
In this campaign, all four of the announced candidates look to have met the basic level of initial support. Cam Broten and Trent Wotherspoon were both able to include multiple prominent MLAs past and present in their launches; Ryan Meili's support base looks to generally parallel his core group from the 2009 campaign; and Erin Weir's combination of MLAs, MPs and even former Manitoba Premier Howard Pawley easily meets the initial threshold.
From that starting point, the main effect of endorsements may be to signal failing campaigns (if endorsers start jumping ship), or to tie candidates to particular issues if prominent activists choose to take a side. But I wouldn't expect to see many endorsements substantially change the complexion of the campaign.
Similarly, I'd consider at least some effective and consistent online presence to be a must. But all four candidates meet that standard easily with neatly-designed and regularly-updated websites.
That said, there is some room for any candidate to stand out by figuring out ways of using the website which serve to better engage potential supporters. And on that front, there are a couple of initiatives worth noting: Weir is holding a digital town hall October 1 to introduce himself to interested observers, while Meili's campaign story looks like a noteworthy development in presenting a single, easily-accessed campaign narrative.
Finally, another area of campaign strength combining the two above issues similarly looks to be less than decisive in trying to determine who has an edge.
While Jason has tracked Facebook "likes" so far, there doesn't look to be enough difference in either numbers or type to substantially distinguish the candidates yet. And I'll be hesitant to draw much from the Facebook numbers from here on in unless one candidate can cultivate an influx of new supporters within Saskatchewan who wouldn't otherwise figure to participate in the campaign.
Similarly, the campaigns have naturally taken online polls as an opportunity to show early-campaign support. But the one obvious example so far took multiple turns before Wotherspoon finally jumped to a substantial lead. And while that end result bodes well for Wotherspoon as a show of strength, I'd think it's most significant that all of the campaigns were able to move the needle at various points.
So with those factors looking like they won't serve to distinguish the current contenders, what should we watch for as the campaign develops? Not surprisingly, I'll have a few suggestions involving each candidate in posts to come.