Conservative leadership race update

November 28th, 2006
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Thanks to guest blogger Bob Hooper (an only slightly pseudonymous appelation) for co-writing this one with Mr. K.:

The race for the leadership of the Progressive Conservatives is becoming as fascinating a political science case study as it is exciting on the ground. The second round appears to be turning into a battle of the largely reddish provincial PCs versus the past Reform/Alliance supporters.

Morton is benefiting from a late surge of help from former Reform/Alliance types among federal Conservative MPs. Morton’s opponents consist of two broad groups: the mostly urban Red Tories and, more surprisingly, the remnants of the old rural Socred farm votes. These are socially narrow-minded but economically paternalistic types who constantly demanded subsidies and quasi-socialist farm policies of their provincial government. Some of them have aimed harsh personal attacks at Morton.

We commend Morton for his brass in declaring the second ballot a two-horse race – with Dinning the cast-off nag destined for the glue factory. But Morton may be posturing. Dinning did, after all, win the first round. To finish third in the second round, he’d have to show literally zero growth – even from among the first-round supporters of Oberg, Hancock and Norris, which totalled a lot of votes. Meanwhile, Morton and Stelmach would each need to finish in the mid-30s for Dinning to lose outright. How likely is that?

Still, we need to reiterate that Dinning’s 30 percent showing, considering the money, the lead, the years to prepare and plan, and half of the caucus supporting him, represent a disaster. He ought to have limited upside, but you never know in this type of race.

Hancock’s declaration of support for Ed Stelmach is nearly meaningless in a one-member, one-vote situation. This is reinforced by the different voter demographics and politics of the two candidates.

The preferential nature of the ballot will be very important. The exact play of the dynamic remains very hard to guess at.

Probably the safest proposition is that if Morton, the arch-conservative, comes third, many of his votes would be redistributed to Stelmach, the next-most conservative candidates, who could thereby win. But we have trouble seeing Morton finishing third.

But if, as seems more likely, Stelmach again comes third, it’s very hard to say how his votes might be redistributed. Stelmach is said to be a conservative with a rural orientation. So why didn’t his voters choose Morton to begin with? Was much of it personal loyalty? Might they at least mark Morton as their second? Or is Morton too conservative in a National Review-type way, too southern Albertan, not rural enough? After all, he’s a Ph.D. and a professor who’s lived his whole adult life in a major city. He loves to hunt, not farm.

If Dinning comes third, his votes should go largely to Stelmach. But it’s hard to imagine Dinning coming in third.

Indeed, the whole honest-Ed-the-compromise-candidate schtick strikes us as a combination of news media irrationality and candidate’s fantasy, or vice-versa. Psychologically, most people will have a hard time voting for someone who isn’t clearly positioned to win. We’re not talking about the base of support that each given candidate might have had initially.

For Stelmach to win, remember, it requires people who’ve already voted for Dinning or Morton to move their vote away from “their” guy – i.e., abandoning the person they would like to see win – to the compromise guy, whose previous showing was as a loser. We could certainly see Stelmach being the second choice of a lot of party members, perhaps of the majority of party members. But if he finishes third, that’s irrelevant.

And in any case, voters are more complex beings than the pundits give them credit for. Morton’s supporters are routinely described as “rural Cro-Magnon conservatives”. Yet virtually all our friends, literally all of whom live in cities, are Morton supporters.

And although Mr. K. is as conservative as they come, he just can’t see voting for a hayseed like Stelmach. He kind of likes Dinning, and still admires the job he did as Treasurer in the 90s. He’ll either leave the Number 2 spot empty or, as bizarre as it sounds, fill it in for Dinning.

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