Thursday, March 08, 2012

The First Look at Redford's Playbook

That sound you hear is the unofficial starting gun on Alberta's 2012 election, as the PCs launch their first round of negative ads, under the familiar "Danielle Smith: Not Worth the Risk" tagline.

The immediate reaction by most has been similar to Don Braid's:

In my prehistoric memory, the Tories haven’t done anything like this in all the long years since they were first elected on Aug. 30, 1971.

They clearly feel challenged, especially in Calgary, the only place where the ad will run at the beginning.

“It proves they see the Wildrose as a real threat,” says Mount Royal University political expert David Taras.

“Negative campaigns don’t come out of nowhere. They appear when a party has got a problem.”

I'm not so convinced this is a sign of problems for the PCs at all - to me it looks like the table setter of a very sound election strategy.

For starters, this is about as tame as attack ads get. It highlights a legitimate policy difference - one the Wildrose have turned into an election issue, and one the PCs need to get their message out on if we believe the Wildrosers when they claim two thirds of Albertans are against the law. Be they 5 points or 50 points ahead in the polls, it would be foolish of the PCs not to respond, and a limited radio ad buy in Calgary is a fairly timid response.

No, the real story here shouldn't be the ad, but the strategy it's setting up. The "Not Worth the Risk" message plays to the exact same "stability" theme that 6 governments rode to re-election last year. More importantly, this ad is a clear sign Redford wants to position the election as a Wildrose-PC showdown. And who can blame her? That narrative will scare Redford Liberals into voting PC, and it will make disaffected PCs view a vote for the Wildrose as a vote for a possible government, rather than a mere protest vote.

If that's the strategy behind these ads - and I suspect it is - then the media response that the PCs are "in danger" and "worried about the Wildrose" is the exact reaction Redford's team was hoping for. It wouldn't at all surprise me if we hear whispers from "senior PC insiders" throughout the campaign that they're worried they could lose, or that their internal polls have the race much closer than it looks.

In that respect, this ad has little to do with drunk driving and everything to do with framing the next election. The fact that it's an attack ad isn't at all a sign of desperation - much as the PCs might like us to believe it is.

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