Saturday, January 12, 2013

#skndpldr Candidate Update - Trent Wotherspoon

Let's close my mid-campaign updates with a look at Trent Wotherspoon - who started the campaign trying to lock in an image to swing the race in his favour, but looks instead to have generated the widest range of possible outcomes as the campaign kicks into high gear.

Wotherspoon's campaign launch remains the largest display of support any candidate has been able to show off. But the impressive turnout from his announcement has given way to what looks to be a mid-range campaign in most areas: Wotherspoon's organization has generated modest totals in online support and involvement, mid-to-upper-end fund-raising matched with large expenditures, and a list of endorsers that doesn't particularly stand out compared to those of Ryan Meili or Cam Broten.

But if Wotherspoon is far from being a prohibitive favourite as his campaign tried to project, he's still in the thick of the race - as the combination of a genial candidate and a generally effective campaign team gives him a solid starting point for the second half of the campaign.

That is, as long as Wotherspoon is able to answer the one question that's followed him throughout the leadership race: will he be able to back up his positive image with enough command of policy issues to serve as the face of the Saskatchewan NDP and its policies?

So far, the debates have presented him surprisingly little need to address that issue: Wotherspoon has chosen to be almost entirely non-adversarial in asking questions of his competitors, and they've largely responded in kind. Which means that Wotherspoon hasn't yet had to explain any organizing set of principles or theoretical basis behind his interesting but occasionally-disjointed set of policy proposals. 

I doubt Wotherspoon's competitors will let him ease his way through the second set of debates the way they did early in the campaign. But even if he can skate away from larger issues for the moment, Wotherspoon will ultimately face tough questions from the NDP's political opponents and the media if elected leader. And the current campaign offers the ideal time for him to both work on providing answers that go beyond his scripted talking points, and put those skills to the test (both in the party's debates and in dealing with the media).

If Wotherspoon succeeds on that front (which I see as entirely possible), then he figures to be in as good a position as anybody to win over support as the leadership campaign progresses. But he'll have to choose whether to make the effort, or to take a seemingly safer path in the leadership race which may pose far greater risks in the long term.


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