The Dippers Vote
Ballots have arrived to thousands of NDP members, who now have until March 24th to vote for a leader.
Originally, the field reminded me a lot of the 2006 Liberal leadership race, with the role of the establishment front runner lacking elected experience played by Brian Topp, the polished veteran who wore different colours provincially played by Thomas Mulcair, the bushy haired do-gooder with weak French played by Paul Dewar, and the party stalwart and consensus candidate played by Peggy Nash.
Since then, the race has morphed into something completely different, with most indicators suggesting a pack of four candidates are chasing down Thomas Mulcair.
For an NDP member's take on the field, the Jurist profiles the candidates here, and places Brian Topp atop his ballot. For an outsider's take and Liberal perspective, I offer my thoughts below:
The Most Electable Candidate
If the end goal of the NDP is to form government, Thomas Mulcair is likely the Dipper for the job. He stands the best chance of holding Quebec and, more importantly, is the only candidate who has seriously talked about putting the NDP through the kind of New Labour transformation that is needed to squeeze the Liberals out of existence and form government. Mulcair has criticized Topp's "tax the rich" platform, and has vowed to reduce the influence of unions within the NDP. When was the last time you heard an NDP leadership candidate bragging about how he "said no" to unions?
Mulcair also stands out in the debates as the best politician and best communicator in the field. He's far from perfect - he's arrogant, has been known to mispeak, is supposedly disliked by many in the party, and lacks the good natured charm of Layton. Still, if I were an NDP member with my eyes set on 24 Sussex, I'd vote for Mulcair.
Of course, if I wanted power at all costs, I'm not sure why I'd be in the NDP. So putting on my "idealistic NDPer" hat and realizing I don't want my beloved party to "become the Liberals", I'd probably cast my vote for Paul Dewar. His weak French would likely mean defeat for a good chunk of their Quebec caucus, but Dewar strikes me as the candidate most able to connect with voters - he's not as smooth as Mulcair, but maybe that's a good thing.
My Selfish Partisan Endorsement
As a Liberal partisan hoping to see the Liberals pass the NDP next election, I'd wholeheartedly encourage my NDP friends to vote for Peggy Nash. Based on her background and the language she uses, Nash comes across as the candidate most rooted in the traditional NDP mould. That's good news for her when it comes to winning the race, but not when it comes to expanding the NDP base in a general election. I've also found her performance during the debates and on camera to be rather underwhelming.
Equally underwhelming has been Brian Topp, so I wouldn't at all be disappointed to see him win. Despite being heralded as an "unbeatable juggernaut" within minutes of Layton's death, Topp has shown himself to be a political rookie lacking both Mulcair's polish and Dewar's charm. At every opportunity, Topp has staked out traditional NDP turf, promising to tax the rich and attacking Mulcair as a "Blairite" ready to "sell out NDP principles".
The Most Interesting Outcome
As a political junkie, there's always a part of me rooting for the most interesting outcome. Did I want Ted Morton to become the Alberta PC leader? No...but it would have been interesting. Was I glad that George Bush beat John Kerry in 2004? No...but it made the next four years a lot more interesting.
In this race, the most interesting candidate is Nathan Cullen, who has refused to back down from his proposal to work with the Liberals and Greens in some ridings. While this idea originally sounded like a hail Mary from a long shot candidate, Cullen has performed well in the debates and is the only candidate from BC - a province with 30% of all NDP members. So don't write him off yet.
A win by Cullen would put the question of co-operation with the Liberals back on the table for both parties, lobbing a landmine into next year's Liberal leadership race. I'm far from sold on Cullen's idea, but it would sure would spice up the political landscape.