Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 25/9/2009 (2887 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Journalists and pundits love to handicap political leadership races, but the battle over who will succeed Premier Gary Doer as leader of the Manitoba NDP is frustrating all efforts to predict a winner. With three weeks left before the convention, it's anyone's race.
Andrew Swan was labelled as the front-runner, in large part because he was the first to declare his intentions, and because party sources were selling the idea he was the candidate who Doer believed had the best chance of continuing the NDP's winning ways. In the Manitoba legislature the opposition has taunted Swan, making it clear that they think he is the anointed one.
But in this instance, being first out of the gate has certainly not translated into running ahead of the pack.
Swan has earned high-profile caucus, cabinet and union endorsements. However, many of those endorsements did not pay off in delegates.
Family Services Minister Gord Mackintosh (St. Johns), Education Minister Peter Bjornson (Gimli) and Justice Minister Dave Chomiak (Kildonan) all supported Swan, but Greg Selinger took most of the delegates in all of those ridings.
Swan's campaign strategy was to focus entirely on cultivating support among existing and recently lapsed members, rather than selling new memberships. The theory was that hard-core party members would be more likely to show up to vote for delegates than so-called "instant members."
Swan's campaign still believes that strategy will pay off in the end but it has been a flop so far. Swan finally broke through Thursday night with convincing wins in Seine River, St. Vital and Southdale where he has the support of all three MLAs. But reports from each riding indicate that the votes were close -- far too close for Swan's comfort.
And then there is the Bipole III issue. Swan showed he might not be ready for prime time when he said he was willing to consider re-routing Manitoba Hydro's new transmission line down the east side of Lake Winnipeg. That pledge helped him win key support from First Nation leaders but it is a toxic issue for non-aboriginal party members.
Swan has tried to defuse the issue by broadcasting a "clarification" of his position in an automated telephone message he is sending out to members. This has thrilled the Selinger and Steve Ashton camps, which believe as long as Swan is still talking about Bipole III, he is hurting his own credibility.
Swan's campaign organizers believe many of the delegates generated by the membership sale blitz can be convinced to switch camps before October 17. A senior NDP source called this a "Plan E" strategy that suggested Swan was getting desperate.
As for Selinger, although he was the last into the race, he has an early lead in delegates. With only about 25 per cent of the total delegates selected, Selinger's camp has claimed about 260, with Ashton in second place with about 130 and Swan trailing with about 70. This weekend, several hundred more delegates will be in play so by Monday morning, the forecast could change.
The man who will likely decide this race, either in his own favour or someone else's, is Ashton. The Thompson MLA is clearly the most dangerous man in the campaign.
Ashton has sold more memberships and has been the most aggressive campaigner. He helped push memberships in his own riding to more than 1,200, which will likely put another 120 delegates into his camp. He has also worked hard to steal delegates from The Pas, where Swan hopes MLA Frank Whitehead will carry the day, and the Maples, where all three campaigns are working hard.
No one will say Ashton didn't pull out all the stops. With an $82,000 campaign spending limit, Ashton has somehow produced and aired television ads. And on Thursday, he hired two buses to haul supporters to a delegate selection meeting in Gimli.
The real question is will these tactics work? Ashton's sales blitz allowed him to run the table and capture all 41 delegates in the Winnipeg riding of Rossmere. But not even the Ashton Express could help him in Gimli. Selinger won 24 of the 30 delegates.
In Concordia, Ashton was asked along with Selinger and Swan not to run slates at the delegate selection meeting on Thursday. The riding association had asked that delegates be elected as independents, in part to respect the fact that Doer, the sitting MLA, won't support anyone publicly.
Selinger and Swan agreed. Ashton refused, and snagged two delegates.
With a weekend of delegate selection meetings yet to come, it's still a real horse race, and likely will be right up until the second ballot on October 17.
It's great to predict a winner. But isn't a cliffhanger more entertaining?
Ashton, Selinger & Swan
The race to be NDP premier