When Saskatchewan's NDP leadership race started, one of the most important questions for all of the candidates was the level of organization Ryan Meili would bring to the campaign: whether he'd build significantly from what had been a growing base by the end of the 2009 race, or largely start his campaign from scratch. And he got a late enough start on the policy front in particular to leave that question in doubt for at least a few weeks.
By now, though, Meili's answer looks to have been fairly definitive. His rank on visible indicators of support ranges from a slight lead in fund-raising to huge advantages in Facebook and Twitter followers. And those numbers are matched by a greater range of ongoing grassroots activity in his campaign than any other - with the latest twist being the twibeard as a highly visible symbol of support (coupled with the most visible membership drive of any of the contenders).
Meanwhile, Meili has also matured as a candidate since 2009 - combining generally effective general speeches with both clear explanations for his own policies, and thoughtful responses to questions that don't form part of his platform.
That combination of organization and candidate strength would seem to position Meili as the favourite going into the home stretch of the campaign. But it may also change Meili's challenge in the months to come.
While Meili has been in Cam Broten's cross-hairs in particular since the debates started last fall, he now figures to be a primary target for each of the other campaigns. And the more his competitors see a need to undercut Meili's position by offering reasons to vote against him, the tougher it may be for him to win down-ballot support to match a strong first-ballot showing.
Of course, the combination of a likeable candidate and active grassroots support can go a long way toward turning that balance in Meili's favour. But the one test Meili hasn't yet had to address is that of how to handle being at the front of the pack - and that looks to be his task over the next couple of months.