If Peter Julian's leadership campaign has been surprising in its relatively push toward controversy, Charlie Angus may be defying expectations in the opposite direction - as the punk rocker has been the most serene figure in the race so far.
Rather than spending much of the first two debates on a soapbox, Angus has thus far positioned himself as the comparatively happy warrior of the leadership campaign. His interjections so far have been measured, upbeat and personally compelling compared to those of his competitors - and members looking for an attitude and tone reminiscent of Jack Layton's leadership may find it in Angus.
Meanwhile, even while choosing not to deal much with policy specifics for the moment, Angus has proven comfortable dealing with whatever issues come up - at least as long as he's able to respond in English.
One of the key questions for Angus at the start of the leadership campaign was his strength in speaking French. So far, he's been functional in reading prepared statements while struggling with quick responses - and it will be worth watching whether Angus can improve his communications over the course of the campaign.
The more lasting issue may be the flip side of Angus' choice to punt on policy for the moment. If his personal appeal falls short, there currently isn't much else for his campaign to fall back on in seeking to win over potential supporters. And each of Angus' main areas of advocacy (First Nations, ethics and poverty) is being targeted by at least one other candidate, leaving a risk that Angus might not be seen as the voice for a single key policy theme.
Angus' personal appeal looks to be the crucial factor in the end. But in a campaign of violent agreement where few candidates will be under the microscope (and there may not be much distinction in approval/disapproval to monitor), I'll be watching early on for examples of institutional support which might provide him the resources to take advantage of positive perceptions later.
In particular, if Angus can assemble some support from within organized labour and/or Jack Layton's previous NDP team, that will take him a long way toward pushing for a Layton-style result - and he may be the one candidate with a chance to win a first-ballot majority.
In order to get there, however, Angus would almost certainly need a strong majority outside of Quebec. And that's where the strength of Peter Julian's campaign may be critical: Julian is likely both the candidate in the best position to hold Angus short of an early-ballot victory, and the one who most stands to benefit if early-ballot Quebec support for other candidates ends up being divided up later on.
Best-case: First-ballot victory based on personal appeal
Worst-case: Moderate first-ballot finish and little subsequent growth for want of a clear campaign theme