By most accounts, Trent Wotherspoon's campaign launch vaulted him immediately to frontrunner status. But let's take a closer look at whether he's likely to maintain that lead throughout the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race.
Wotherspoon starts out with two significant advantages over his competitors. First, he's a natural retail politician: not just comfortable and friendly but downright gregarious in working any room, with seemingly boundless energy to put that skill to regular use. And second, there's a strong organization which allowed him to start the leadership campaign with a massive show of support.
And those two factors aren't operating in isolation. Wotherspoon has started the leadership campaign with an ambitious travel schedule, ensuring that he reaches out to the maximum number of potential voters before support has solidified - and presumably making a positive impression along the way.
But then, there's this:
Or in written form..."What I'm excited about doing is building with purpose and bringing people together towards the common cause that exists, towards making that crystal clear focus that we are about making the improvements in the lives of Saskatchewan people in our communities..."
Now, the above isn't in response to a difficult question in a press scrum: instead, it's Wotherspoon's opening pitch which goes out of its way to avoid defining his campaign's animating "common cause". And while Wotherspoon has sounded far more convincing in some other formats (see e.g. his take on inter-connectivity and inequality here), it can't be a good sign if his official campaign message consists of word salad - particularly if the plan is to have Wotherspoon defend non-specifics in a debate format against his policy-savvy competitors.
Of course, Wotherspoon's base may not see a campaign of broad generalities as reason to change course. But we'll want to keep a close eye on his approval among other candidates' supporters and undecided voters: if weaknesses in Wotherspoon's message and presentation are seen to trump his charisma among those without a personal stake in his campaign, he may be in for a rough race.
Not surprisingly, the most important opponent for Wotherspoon looks to be Cam Broten - who has thus far combined a comparable level of institutional support with a more clear set of values.
Wotherspoon may have separate paths to victory based on either taking an insurmountable lead on the first ballot, or assembling enough support within the Meili and Weir camps to fend off Broten in a multi-ballot vote. But the two may involve substantially different strategies as the campaign progresses.
Best-case: First-ballot victory based on strong organization and personal appeal
Worst-case: Mid-place finish as members coalesce around other candidates' values and policy proposals