09 June 2011

Will bad Tory polls change candidate slates?

Public opinion polls showing dramatic declines in provincial Conservative support might bring some changes in the slate of candidates.

The provincial Conservatives, for example, included a pledge to run again for all incumbents in the December deal that installed Kathy Dunderdale for a longer interim term than originally planned.

Before then, the slate of incumbents likely to quit included Dunderdale herself.  Finance minister Tom Marshall was reputedly headed for retirement, along with Sheila Osborne , Bob Ridgley*, Roger Fitzgerald, Dave Denine and a few others who were pensionable.

So far only Fitzgerald seems to be headed for the gate.  CBC’s David Cochrane tweeted on Wednesday that Ron Ellsworth has decided he won’t be running this fall.  He was reportedly looking at a challenge to incumbent Ed Buckingham in St. John’s East.  Buckingham didn’t support the Dunderdale campaign for the federal Conservatives and some provincial Conservatives thought they could get some support for a challenge to an otherwise strong incumbent. 

Sadly for her, Dunderdale’s gambit blew up in her face leaving Buckingham politically stronger.  Not surprisingly the wannabes are backing off.

Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean Ellsworth and other ambitious Conservatives wouldn’t leap forward if a seat opened up somewhere else.

That’s where the polls come in.  As support for Dunderdale’s Conservatives drops, some of the older hands may change their minds on the deal and take a comfortable retirement package before October. That could open up St. John’s North, for example, currently held by Bob Ridgley and another likely home for Ron Ellsworth.

Ditto St. John’s West where Sheila Osborne has been reportedly ready for retirement since 2007.  A couple of names popped up this past week of Tories looking at challenging Osborne for the nod – or ideally – just taking a run to replace her if she decides to gracefully walk away to look after the grandkids.

Ass for the other parties, people who had already taken a pass might change their minds.  Popular St. John’s councilor Sheilagh O’Leary has been rumoured to be resisting New Democrat efforts to recruit her as a challenger to Ed Buckingham in St. John’s East.  Will the recent CRA poll weaken her resolve to stay put or will it  give O’Leary the hope she might be able to trade up to a seat on the Hill instead of at Tammany on Gower?

Meanwhile, for the Liberals, Danny Dumaresque seems to looking beyond Menihek in Labrador to a seat on the island.  One version has Dumaresque tackling Lewisporte’s Conservative incumbent Wade Verge come October.

That’s the thing about polls.  Lots of people make decisions based on what they think they say.  Kathy Dunderdale should know that, having worked so closely with ace poll-follower Danny Williams for so long. 

When the polls were looking rosy for the Tories, ambitious people were content to sit on the sidelines. 

Now with the scent of blood in the air, they might not sit still much longer.  After all, if you look at the actual CRA numbers – not the adulterated one’s the company feeds reporters – you can see why Kathy Dunderdale looked and sounded so stressed when she spoke to reporters on Tuesday.

Shave off 10 points from CRA’s party choice number come August and the Tories are at 34%.  Even if you split that vote evenly between the two opposition parties, the swings could put more and more seats across the province in play.  Hand the whole 10% to one opposition party or the other and things look even darker for Dunderdale’s Conservatives. And that would be with a mere month and a bit to go before polling day.

Don’t be surprised if there are more than a few surprises in the days and weeks ahead.

- srbp -

* Corrected from “Tom” in the original