Where’s the winning effort?

Neither front-runner makes compelling case

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It ain't easy trying to predict the outcome of an election at the outset. Strategies are under wraps, the mood of the voter is anyone's guess and no one has made serious mistakes yet.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/10/2010 (4440 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It ain’t easy trying to predict the outcome of an election at the outset. Strategies are under wraps, the mood of the voter is anyone’s guess and no one has made serious mistakes yet.

In the 2010 edition of the Winnipeg mayoral battle, it has been thus. On Labour Day, we knew former MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis wanted to unseat incumbent Sam Katz. We knew she was an underdog and that Katz has a solid brand that would make unseating him tough. What we didn’t know was how the two would negotiate the campaign.

Now, with just two weeks left before election day, the issues (or the lack of issues) and strategies are coming into view.

Wasylycia-Leis is running an underwhelming campaign. She has no real policies or pledges to tout; she is all about portraying Katz as a sneak who hides things from citizens. That was the message in week one (“The mayor is a sneak!”) and in week two (“You might remember that the mayor is a sneak.”) and in week three (“Hey, did I tell you the mayor is a sneak?”) And we can be sure it will be her message all the way to election day.

Katz started the campaign with a medley of his greatest hits, including his core pledge to hire more cops. And, as you would expect, he has been running on his record. He frequently reminds voters that talk is cheap, and you don’t want a candidate who just talks the talk because, well, talk is cheap. Oh, and he is the only candidate who can walk the walk. Even in a profession that embraces such tactics, it has been a dizzying display of hyperbole.

So, what do we conclude about the campaign to date?

Wasylycia-Leis’ decision to harp on the same line of attack week in and week out, while offering little more than a pledge to “do better” than her predecessor, suggests she believes she has found an issue with traction. Now, a decision to be a deliberately underwhelming, one-note politician can be risky, unless you figure you’ve hit the note that registers with voters. And there’s good reason to believe that’s what Judy’s found.

Katz started the campaign with a double-digit lead; the most recent poll showed Judy and Sam in a statistical dead heat. It is safe to conclude the “Sam the sneak” strategy has played some role in her comeback.

However, the most interesting development in this campaign has been Katz’s response. With two weeks to go before election day, Katz has decided to “go negative” as the war-room generals like to say, recently unleashing an automated phone bank assault that warns voters a vote for Wasylycia-Leis is a vote to take homes away from low-income Winnipeggers. It is not a shocking turn of events. Politicians go negative because it works. You tell voters something long enough, even if that thing has an only passing familiarity with the truth, and they begin to believe it. What’s shocking is that Katz has chosen to go negative on Wasylycia-Leis’ admission that she would raise property taxes two per cent in each of the next four years.

Wasylycia-Leis dealt with this issue early in the campaign, and by coming out voluntarily and definitively on the issue, she has essentially defused it. Again, one need only consider the fact that since admitting this in the first week of the campaign, she has reduced Katz’s lead to zero.

The phone bank message is all the more unusual because Katz has not himself said whether he will keep the freeze, or raise taxes. The incumbent mayor argues he has a committee studying the issue and won’t pre-empt their work for his campaign. That’s fine, but one might deduce from the vigour with which he is portraying Wasylycia-Leis as a modern-day Snidely Whiplash that he’s still fond of tax freezes. He just won’t come out and say it. Which, Judy has alleged, is exactly the behaviour you would expect from a politician who keeps things from voters. You know, sneak is as sneaky does.

The decision to fight Wasylycia-Leis on tax increases is risky at best, and misguided at worst. It makes Katz look like he hasn’t been paying attention to the macro forces in the campaign. He is trying to scare people away from voting for a candidate on an issue she already outlined weeks ago, and which did nothing to stop her support from surging. It makes you wonder exactly how negative he will have to go to turn that issue around.

That’s one of the reasons why it’s tough to predict, at the outset, the outcome of an election. When a campaign starts, most of us see candidates trying to win. What you almost never foresee are the candidates who put their efforts into losing an election.

dan.lett@freepress.mb.ca

 

 

Dan Lett

Dan Lett
Columnist

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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