10 March 2014

Conservatives struggling for candidates #nlpoli

[Includes Hamlet update]

If David Cochrane’s sources are right,  Danny Breen won’t be running for the Conservatives in Virginia Waters after all.

That means that unless the Conservatives come up with an amazing and currently unknown candidate, they will likely not only lose the upcoming by-election but run the risk of coming in third place behind the New Democrats.

Breen has impeccable Conservative credentials.  He’s already well-known having done the impossible: been a strong, solid, and visible performer on St. John’s city council without succumbing to the drama-queen antics of some of his colleagues.

The Conservatives haven’t called the by-election yet.  That hasn’t stopped the Liberals and New Democrats from coming up with high-profile candidates.

Liberal Cathy Bennett is arguably the stronger of the two, given her performance in the recent Liberal leadership.  She has emerged from the campaign a better performer overall.  She always had a strong organizational base and that’s already turned up in Virginia Waters.  Before securing the nomination, Bennett had her campaign up and running looking for votes.

New Democrat Sheilagh O’Leary has a high profile and she remains popular among New Democrats.  The New Democrats still have a strong group of organizers and workers in St. John’s, where the party has been strong recently.  The NDP team includes veterans of recent NDP campaigns as well as some disaffected Tories.

For all that, the NDP has some friction that will work against them.  O’Leary herself took a hit in her credibility in her recent stint in municipal politics.  She started strong but fell victim to ego and poor judgment in taking a run at the mayor’s job despite no sign she stood a hope of winning  her. As a temporary test-host on VOCM’s flagship talk show, O’Leary was annoying. 

All that may not harm O’Leary with the core NDP vote in Virginia Waters.  The question will be how much O’Leary can attract people who were voting Conservative but who now might be looking around for another choice.  That’s a challenge given that a poll taken the day Kathy Dunderdale vacated the seat showed the Liberals and Conservatives at 27%, with the NDP at a mere seven percent of respondents.  That was before anyone knew who the candidates would be, but whatever vote the NDP gets beyond seven percent will be attributable in largest part of O’Leary.

And then there are the Conservatives.  They will need to find a strong candidate to have any chance of hanging onto Virginia Waters.  Tom Marshall is a nice guy but you’d have to be pretty naive to think that Tom will carry any weight with the voters.  The race will come down to the team on the ground and the candidate. 

Next to Danny Breen, Shawn Skinner would have been a potential winner in Virginia Waters.  Since he has already told NTV’s Mike Connors that he is not interested in Virginia Waters, Skinner is out of contention just as he is also out of contention for the Conservative leadership*.  If he had a shred of interest in the big job, Skinner would be running for the seat in Virginia Waters. 

Since Breen and Skinner are out, that leaves the Conservatives without much at all.  There aren’t any other names floating around, just as there aren’t any names left in the leader’s race after Frank Coleman.presumably declares sometime this week. That’s a dramatic change for a party that historically has been very strong in St. John’s.  Well, historically, up to 2011 when the Conservatives won a majority provincially but lost most of the seats in their traditional bedrock of St. John’s.

Now here the Conservatives are casting about for someone  - anyone - to run in what should be a safe seat.  Where people were falling over each other for a nomination a few years ago, now the Conservatives are lucky to get one to show up.

That sad spectacle of no serious candidates, both in Virginia Waters and in the party leadership itself .tells you more about how severe are the problems inside the provincial Conservative Party than any poll ever could.


Hamlet changes his mind…

CBC’s David Cochrane tweeted at around 1:30 AM that “I’m being told Shawn Skinner has started collecting signatures for PC leadership nomination papers….”

That shifts things.

Based on Friday’s post and Uncle Gnarley’s comments on Thursday,  Skinner would likely only enter the race if the preferred candidate Frank Coleman didn’t.