Sunday, November 26, 2006

Rating The Campaigns

Delegate counts aside, my grading of the individual campaigns:

Dion A-

The sleeper candidate, that really wasn't taken seriously from the outset, Dion has been on a steady ascent since the spring. Despite little money, uneven organization and a lack of institutional support, Dion has managed to position himself as a serious contender. Dion has had a consistent, detailed message, demonstrated surprising passion and has shown a media savvy that has afforded him a lot of positive press. Getting noticed, standing out from the crowd, was always Dion's biggest challenges and he did an excellent job in distinguishing himself. For the most part, a flawless campaign that has deserved momentum.

I would have given Dion an A, but the recurring theme of "I know best", accompanied by the grumpy rhetoric, has given Dion an edge which could be a turnoff. Dion is a humble man, but sometimes his inability to acknowledge others contributions conveys an arrogance which isn't attractive.

Kennedy A-

Kennedy launched his campaign with a great deal of hype attached, that was somewhat unfair and set him up for early criticism. The bar was set high, and Kennedy looked challenged to meet the expectations. However, from the onset, Kennedy was able to put in place a very solid organization, with an extremely motivated base of support. Kennedy was quite successful in speaking to westerners, in a way that went beyond the usual afterthought soundbite, like the requisite pat on the head.

An early criticism of the Kennedy campaign was a lack of policy positions, but throughout the summer Kennedy addressed this issue with bold ideas. The highlight for Kennedy, coming out with a strong position on Afghanistan, while many of his rivals played fence sitter. Kennedy successfully tackled the "lack of foreign policy" experience with his detailed and thoughtful ideas on Canada's place in the world, and a good understanding of our values.

Kennedy ran a very positive campaign, maybe at his own peril, because the media largely ignored the message. The media finally took some notice, when Kennedy scored high on super weekend, which demonstrated how successful his grassroots approach had been.

I would have scored Kennedy even higher, but he made a serious tactical error in not spending more time trying to secure some support in Quebec. The province was always a challenge for Kennedy, for a myriad of reasons, but I think a better effort could have given him at least semi-respectable numbers and he would have looked far more viable heading into the convention.

Rae B-

Rae has been quite successful in addressing his past-record, as well as the johnny come lately criticisms. Rae has enjoyed a great deal of momentum, through several high-profile endorsements, tantalizing poll numbers and Rae's natural ability to charm the hell out of everybody. Rae has often looked the wise statesman, with the steady hand and people seem comfortable with the idea of him at the helm. Experience was seen as a double-edged sword for Rae, but overall he has done a good job turning his pedigree into a plus. Rae has avoided large gaffes throughout the process, and although his careful, say mostly nothing approach has been disappointing, you do have to respect the tactic.

I don't score Rae higher because frankly the media has given him this place almost by default. From day one, Rae was put beside Ignatieff as the one to watch. This perception was largely a function of backroom opinion. Amazingly, Rae has revealed himself to be the insider with the support of the old powerbase. The Liberal Party is a bloated, mostly top-down entity, so Rae's standing at this point isn't particularly surprising, nor do I think it speaks to an exceptional campaign, more an ability to play the game.

Rae's campaign has been, substantively, the most pedestrian and the least inspiring. I don't sense any understanding of where the Party sits in the public psyche, nor do I see any urgency in Rae's message. Rae enjoys a lot of old-guard support, but I haven't seen any evidence that he has connected with the new order in any way. Bland, but effective I guess.

Ignatieff C

Depending on your perspective, Ignatieff is either a disaster or a revelation, probably both. Great organization, with a healthy combination of new and old, Ignatieff has done a great job building a national team. The early media darling, Ignatieff received the lion's share of the press and this fact gave him immediate momentum. Decent debater, but amazingly eloquent and inspirational on the stump, Ignatieff has offered plenty of substance. The problem, some of the ideas are controversial, divisive and suggest a lack of political polish. Ignatieff's speak on his feet mentality is mostly refreshing, but equally dangerous. I won't re-hash the gaffes, but there is no doubt that Ignatieff can be his own worst enemy.

No reasonable person can say that Ignatieff has ran a great campaign. The media has been harsh, but that is really irrelevant because this condition will persist in a national campaign and that is the bottomline. Where Ignatieff doesn't get credit, his courage in putting forth policy that isn't focus group tested. Dion seems to enjoy the environmental candidate tag, but to my mind Ignatieff has offered the most progressive, serious environmental plan, that puts politics a distant second in thought process. On substance, Ignatieff is the most interesting and daring, which isn't necessarily a negative in a era where politicians rarely say anything. Ignatieff speaks like a person, not a politician, never a bad trait in my mind.

I give Ignatieff an average score, because from day one he was always the frontrunner. Ignatieff had a chance to really build a insurmountable wave, so his current situation is a minor failure if expectation is your guide.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bloggers tend to see only the air war - what people are saying in the media and the blogs. What they miss are the other two key aspects of campaigning - organization and fundraising.

Here's my take on how the candidates have done when you look at it in terms of organization, media and fundraising.

In terms of rebuilding the party as an electoral machine, the two best bets are actually Ignatieff and Kennedy. Dion and Rae may be loved by the media, but Dion doesn't inspire volunteers or donors and Rae is simply the figurehead on an old school backroom campaign.

Organization

Ignatieff - The only candidate with support across the country. Has an incredible organizational machine that people keep underestimating. A

Kennedy - Built a serious Ontario machine, did well out West but collapsed in Quebec. B+

Rae - Organizational strength overshadowed by allegations that most of his supporters is rented. B

Dion - Couldn't even win his own province, 'nuff said. C

Media

Rae - Thanks to long relationships between his advisers and key media players has received nothing but the kid glove treatment. A+

Dion - Has become a media darling for reasons that aren't really clear. A

Kennedy - Can't buy decent coverage, which isn't necessarily his fault since the media seems intent on ignoring him. B

Ignatieff - Gets lots of coverage but the media pack turned on him in mid-October. C-

Fundraising

Ignatieff - Raised the most money from people of all backgrounds and regions. A

Rae - Raised lots of money, but mostly from people in Toronto and Montreal with very deep pockets. B+

Kennedy - Surprisingly good fundraiser, did way better than Rae out West, which is where the growth is. B

Dion - Severe money troubles. Carrying a debt equal to twice what he's raised so far. D.

Miles Lunn said...

I would give Dion an A-, Kennedy a B+, Rae a B-, and Ignatieff a D for their campaigns. Kennedy's major problem was his policies came out a little late and he didn't do enough to promote them. Although I was pleased at his willingness to go against some past Liberal positions be it on bank mergers or Afghanistan. This does bode well in a general election. Rae was generally successful, but I found him a bit too arrogant at times. Although he may please Liberals, I am worried his harsh attacks on those with different views, may rub the wrong way amongst some Liberal-Tory swing voters since we need both the Liberal-Tory and NDP-Liberal swing voters to succeed, not just one. Ignatieff's campaign was a disaster by all accounts. He was only successful in gaining much caucus support, but you don't win elections by appealing to the Starbucks crowd as Rae and Ignatieff have done, you win them by appealing to the Tim Horton's crowd as Kennedy and Dion are doing. Also I think his gaffe proneness could be a serious liability. One gaffe in an election can sink a campaign so his frequency of them makes me worry that it would be difficult to run a gaffe free campaign.

I think if we choose Dion or Kennedy next week, we have a greater than even chance of winning the next election, but if we choose Rae or Ignatieff it will be an uphill battle.

canuckistanian said...

considering i haven't seen a real miss-step by rae's campaign, i think a -B is a little harsh. i actually think he has run the most effective campaign and would give him an A. kennedy and dion have run equally uninspiring campaigns and give them an both a B. ignatieff has run an absolutely abysmal campaign. i think it has been a complete failure and have to give it an F.

Steve V said...

anon

Nice breakdown.

miles

"Kennedy's major problem was his policies came out a little late and he didn't do enough to promote them."

The early criticism of Kennedy was he was light on substance, and I agree he was late in putting out policy, which only fed the perception.

You could argue that Kennedy wasn't in the news because he didn't make news. There were a few occasions where Ignatieff gaffed, and Kennedy could have scored some points but he took the high road, effectively saying "we will all make errors". The high ground doesn't translate into good print I suppose. One thing I found interesting, the Trudeau endorsement saw scattered coverage, which was surprising, given his media darling and generally disportionate coverage on other questions.

canuck

The main reason I gave Rae a B- was because he is pretty much where the pundits put him at the beginning of the campaign. He didn't make any blunders, but I don't really see any instance where he distinguished himself either.

Olaf said...

What about Volpe?

Steve V said...

"What about Volpe?"

You would have to give him an A for bringing young pre-voters into politics, and simulateneously securing the dead vote. Quite an achievement, I can't wait for the stirring convention speech.

burlivespipe said...

I'm a Rae supporter, but I'd agree with the order of your grading...
Dion strided ahead of the pack with policy and passion, surprising many with the latter, and demonstrated an earnestness that made him 'respectable'. However, for whatever reason, that didn't translate into more votes and money. Something is holding him back, whether its 'not another one from Quebec' factor or 'too tied with the ol' regime'...
Kennedy, as noted, came out too slowly with policy -- and was basically written off by some media and bloggers for it. Now he's stepped up and revealed a decent depth in understanding of issues at the national/international level. Still stung by his poor french/showing in Quebec...
Rae plugged away steadily and took every opportunity to flex that experience, whether it was dealing with hot issues or just working the media. He's a master at it and I think that really helped boost his numbers, some of the early buzz seemed a bit 'media fizz' but now it's legit. Would have been nice to see a little more expounding policy ideas, but he did touch on a few...
Ignatieff has some lustre but I remain amazed that more of his 'followers' haven't rethought their choice because he has stirred up things that shouldn't be issues and stepped into things that should have easily been avoided. 'Not losing sleep'? Then the 'War crime'? Harpor doesn't even have to bring out the dredle now, he's scooped up all the soft liberal jewish votes scared away these comments.
If anything, Kennedy has made some key strides here -- standing up to what is a very divisive issue. He may not gain much in Quebec, unless he can successfully communicate his reasons in their language. Maybe Justin is helping in the tutorial department...It's going to be a very interesting weekend.

Steve V said...

"It's going to be a very interesting weekend."

Agreed. Thanks for the thoughtful response, as always.