Sunday, April 26, 2009

Ryan Meili Candidate Checkpoint - The Movement

The Candidate

At the start of the leadership race, Ryan Meili looked like an ideal candidate on paper. But regardless of what was on his resume, it was anybody's guess as to whether or not he'd be able to put together a successful campaign - and especially whether he'd manage to build support in a party where each of the other three candidates seemed to have some obvious connections.

Over the course of the campaign, Meili has managed to put those questions to rest, performing well enough on a personal level and on the debate circuit to bring in a substantial amount of support both within the NDP's inner circles and beyond.

That is, among those who have had a chance to meet or see him personally. But judging from what little polling is available, Meili still has a ways to go in getting his name known beyond those who have taken an active interest in the campaign. Which is hardly a bad position to be in at this stage of the race - but means there's plenty of work left to do in advance of the June convention.

The Strategy

In principle, a substantial part of Meili's appeal rested on the potential to carry out an Obama-style campaign, as I and others suggested early in the campaign. But despite his adoption of "community organizer" language along with a few other echoes of Obama's campaign, it's probably fair to say that Meili's model is quite different from the one that propelled Obama into the White House.

A couple of the major differences may arise out of the types of party systems involved. Meili has apparently spent a greater proportion of his time and effort on specific policy development rather than general themes. And in a system of strict party discipline, he hasn't extended his message of positive politics to the point of talking up bipartisanship.

But more interesting is an organization difference that looks to be largely a function of the resources involved. Obama had a year and a half to build on a national foundation put in place by Tom Daschle, and was able to dedicate huge amounts of time and money to training an army of volunteers. Not to mention that he was already at least moderately well-known among U.S. Democrats for his 2004 convention speech and work in the Senate.

In contrast, Meili has had to start nearly from scratch with far less time to work with. In some respects, that may have limited how much he's been able to do - but if anything, it may also make the movement for renewal and change that he's been able to build into an even more authentic expression of support.

The Result

But how far can that movement go in swaying relatively casual party members when it counts? That's the big remaining question which Meili's campaign will need to answer over the next month and a half. And the road may only get tougher from here on in.

While the Lingenfelter and Higgins campaigns will be able to spend their time trying to play up the relative merits of candidates who are relatively well known, Meili will still have to focus on introducing himself to members who haven't been following the race all that closely - and then persuade them to send their votes his way only after that task is carried out. Which means that there will be more work for Meili's volunteer-based organization to do over the next month.

And complicating matters even further, Meili can't count on a straightforward road through the convention even if he succeeds in his first goal of at least working his way ahead of Higgins. As I mentioned in my earlier post on Higgins' campaign, there would figure to be at least a reasonable number of Higgins first-ballot supporters who might switch to Lingenfelter on a later ballot. Which may mean that it won't be enough for Meili stay on the third ballot: instead, he'll likely need Lingenfelter's earlier-ballot support to top out the low 40s at most to push the odds into his favour by the end.

The bright side is that Meili may have already accomplished much of what I'd hoped to see done during the course of the leadership race: whatever the results in June, the movement that Meili has managed to build over the past few months has the potential to serve as the backbone of progressive politics in Saskatchewan for years to come. But it remains to be seen whether Meili will be able to overcome stalwarts past and present to win the leadership of the NDP now.

Edit: added tag.

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