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Day 3 - Politics, like the weather, is unpredictable

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They promised me three days of sun, but arising this morning in Vancouver all I could see was low, grey cloud and misty rain. The fearless lower mainland weathercasters are still promising sun by the afternoon. We'll see about that.Everyone knows the weather, like an election result, is very difficult to predict. In this election, the incumbent Tories are showing remarkably strong in the polls, but as yet have not pulled into majority territory (40 per cent plus in polls). Will they hold on? Journalists watch the parties very carefully to see if there are signs indicating how they think they're doing. Most major parties do a lot of polling, and poll analysis. The journalists watch for changes in strategy, or the covergence of events, and try to figure out what it says about the trends in voting. And yesterday, there were a lot of interesting strategic issues coming into focus.The Tories unveiled attack ads. That's right, 48 hours into an election they are leading (comfortably) the Tories unveiled pretty nasty TV ads ripping Liberal Leader Stephane Dion. These nuggets were followed by a web attack ad that showed a flying puffin bird pooping on Dion's shoulder. (The offending post has been since edited to keep the puffin but lose the poop, and the Tories were forced to condemn their own web content.) The early launching of bile caused more than a few venerable election watchers to scratch their heads. The Tory launch had all been about positive, kinder, softer Tories, and their positive, kinder, softer leader, Stephen Harper.Attack ads are part of every party's arsenal because, well, they work. But the timing and the right balance of content is critical. The Tory ads, although highly premature, are loud and obnoxious, and more than a little humorous. But their introduction now is certainly raising some question about Tory strategy, and what their own polling numbers are telling them.On the same day, Dion tells journalists in Quebec that his difficulty embracing English is due to a hereditary hearing problem that makes it difficult for him to absorb the subtleties of the other official language.Blogging Tories are furious about Dion's admission, suggesting the Liberal leader is trying to deflect criticism for his inarticulate performances in English and cultivate sympathy in the face of a torrent of Tory attack ads. It is pretty cynical to suggest this is a ploy, largely because it's the kind of admission that might be easily proven untrue in the harsh exposure of an election campaign. It's simply too big a risk to take for something that on its own, has limited impact. That is to say, as an issue it only comes into play if the Tories go overboard trying to exploit his clumsy grasp of English.Consider that Tory attempts to attack Jean Chretien in 1993 backfired in spectacular fashion after the public sensed the incumbents were making fun of Chretien's twisted mouth, a feature due to a childhood bout of Bell's palsy. Could Dion generate some sympathy, and thus some blowback on the Tories, from pointing out that he has a medical condition that makes it difficult to hear and speak English? There is no certainty this will happen. In fact, even though voters at first embraced Chretien's folksy and clumsy manner and appearance, they found him a bit of an embarrassment later in his tenure, especially following the 9-11 attacks when it appeared he did not have the charisma of a Tony Blair or even, dare we say it, a George W. Bush. Watch the Tory attack ads carefully to see if the tone and content changes. That will be the clearest sign that the Harper campaign is concerned about this blowing up in their faces.-30-

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About Dan Lett

Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school.

Despite the fact that he’s originally from Toronto and has a fatal attraction to the Maple Leafs, Winnipeggers let him stay.

In the following years, he has worked at bureaus covering every level of government – from city hall to the national bureau in Ottawa.

He has had bricks thrown at him in riots following the 1995 Quebec referendum, wrote stories that helped in part to free three wrongly convicted men, met Fidel Castro, interviewed three Philippine presidents, crossed several borders in Africa illegally, chased Somali pirates in a Canadian warship and had several guns pointed at him.

In other words, he’s had every experience a journalist could even hope for. He has also been fortunate enough to be a two-time nominee for a National Newspaper Award, winning in 2003 for investigations.

Other awards include the B’Nai Brith National Human Rights Media Award and nominee for the Michener Award for Meritorious Public Service in Journalism.

Now firmly rooted in Winnipeg, Dan visits Toronto often but no longer pines to live there.


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