Saturday, March 14, 2009

The gauntlet

The Saskatchewan NDP has announced the timing and format for the upcoming leadership debates. And the plan is both to make sure the candidates prove their mettle under what sounds like a fairly grueling schedule, and to get the candidates face-to-face with as many citizens as possible:
Wollenberg also announced seven local forums that will take place across the province to engage people with the candidates.

The candidates, as well as the public, are invited to attend the forums from April 15 to 23 (excluding April 19) in North Battleford, Prince Albert, Saskatoon, Melfort, Yorkton, Swift Current and Regina.
Of course, the timing to get people involved couldn't be much better. With every region of the province getting to hear from and compare the candidates personally just in time for the membership deadline, the result would seem to be to maximize interest at the point where it can do most to help bring more people into the party.

But in order to make that happen, the candidates themselves will face what looks to be an extremely difficult schedule. Compare to the public debates in the Ontario NDP leadership race, which were generally separated by a week or more - giving the candidates ample time to prepare for each debate individually, and try to shape a different direction if a single debate didn't go as intended.

For Saskatchewan's candidates, those options won't be available. With the debates coming in rapid succession, it'll be essential for the contenders both to perform well from the beginning, and to use a core message from each debate to set up the next - as one day's headlines are sure to influence how the later debates are covered. And there will be precious little time to change course if an initial plan doesn't work out.

In theory, that structure would seem to favour Lingenfelter and Higgins as the more experienced candidates. But there's some significant risk and reward involved for everybody: after all, the likelihood of a gaffe which could knock an experienced politician off his or her stride surely has to increase when dealing with seven debates in eight days. And the debates may well take the experience card out of play to a great extent, as it'll be awfully difficult to make a case that either Meili or Pedersen can't hold up to the glare of politics if they hold their own through a stretch designed as a far more strict test than the debates in a normal election campaign.

In sum, a campaign which was already starting to get very interesting looks to be all the more so now that the debate schedule is out. And there's plenty of reason to look forward to seeing how all four of the leadership contestants will perform given the opportunity.

h/t to Buckdog's NDP Leadership site.

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