It's early, nothing is written in stone, but we now have enough information to speculate on where the various candidates stand. In determining where each candidate sits, I'll weight four factors: membership numbers, endorsements, fundraising and the ever elusive "buzz" factor. My take, feel free to dispute:
In terms of grassroots support, coupled with party brass endorsements, Ignatieff looks impressive. I don't think anyone can dispute that at this point Ignatieff is the front-runner, although not by a wide margin. Ignatieff's weakness as we move forward- does he have the capacity for further growth? Like it or not, Ignatieff is the most divisive candidate in this race. People have strong feelings on his positions, which means that while he may have wide support, he also carries the burden of high negatives. Ignatieff is a polarizing figure, which to my mind may hurt him in a crowded field as people look at second choices. The frontrunner, but Ignatieff sits on an uneasy perch.
Rae scores well on all fronts, particularly impressive on the fundraising front. Easy to discount this measure, but there are practical applications. In speaking with some local Liberal officials, they were all in agreement that Rae had a very impressive organization- this fact is bound to pay dividends. In terms of momentum, Rae has done an excellent job articulating an alternative to the Harper path. However, the stigma of Rae's reign in Ontario is still present and is not easily dismissed. High negatives may hurt Rae as we get closer and people debate whether Rae is the best choice to move forward. A fresh start and old baggage may make for contradictory messages.
Great membership numbers, despite little press coverage. Fundraising totals aren't earth shattering, but strong enough to make Kennedy viable. Given Kennedy's lack of relative presence on the national Liberal stage, his party brass support is quite impressive. Of all the candidates, Kennedy has the most "buzz", simply as a function of his rise from obscurity to serious contender (the blogs were light years ahead of the media on Kennedy). Kennedy will certainly be a player on the convention floor and has great capacity for growth. People that hesitate on Ignatieff and Rae may find fertile ground with Kennedy.
I don't want to overstate the fundraising numbers, but there is no denying that it leaves a bad impression. It's early on this front, so these numbers are anything but a death knell, but they are what they are- disappointing. On the other measures, Dion looks relevant and should bring a sizable delegate count to the convention. Where Dion excels is on the intangibles. I don't discount blogosphere support because diehards drive conventions. Dion seems to enjoy a great deal of "second choice" support which is essential in a crowded field. I can see several scenarios where Dion rises on subsequent ballots and could emerge the victor. Dion may be best placed to "grow" at the convention.
Unfortunately, Volpe has amassed enough support to be a player. That being said, he is a public relations disaster for the party and has zero potential to go anywhere. Ignatieff may pay the price for attacking Volpe at the convention- we shall see. Enough ink on this dud.
Originally, I pegged Dryden for the "second choice" guy, but he has since be overshadowed by Kennedy and Dion. The good soldier, Dryden will have a role, but has failed to create any noteworthy buzz and looks to be a bit player. Dryden's importance rests with where he puts his support. If I were the other candidates I would go out of my way to be very nice to Mr. Dryden.
Similar to Dryden, I don't see any scenario where he emerges to the throne. Brison's campaign to date has been somewhat disappointing. Brison's "Atlantica" terminology just doesn't sound right. Where Brison and Dryden go may be a big factor in who wins this race.