(T)here is another view that we now seeing a very different NDP campaign ... and perhaps even a very different Dwain Lingenfelter.Let's deal with two of Mandryk's implicit claims: that Lingenfelter's focus on engaging with rural ridings is a new development, and that it represents a strategy based on building the NDP primarily for 2015 and beyond as opposed to 2011.
The NDP leader, elected two years ago to heap damage on Wall and the Sask. Party in the hopes of beating them in 2011, is now all about nurturing the party's roots for its comeback in 2015. There are signs that Lingenfelter is forgoing his summer vacation to try and do just that.
"When I came back to run (as NDP leader), I knew very well that winning this election would be a long shot," said Lingenfelter in a telephone interview during a lunch stop at a diner south of Blaine Lake. But Lingenfelter said he felt he owed it to the party and the province to help rebuild and mentor the next generation within the NDP. "That's the longer view and that part seems to be working," he said.
His detractors might be unwilling to accept that this is his approach, but the odometer on his car may suggest otherwise. In June and July, Lingenfelter has made more stops than the party has put out press releases, Some of these 25-odd stops might be expected - target-rich environments like Regina, Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Moose Jaw, and North Battleford, where the NDP is trying to hold on to or gain seats.
But others, like Estevan, Lloydminster, Lebret, Shellbrook, Yorkton, Melville and Big River (which Lingenfelter says he's visited six times) see Lingenfelter venturing into Wall's rural stronghold where NDP candidates have less of a chance in November.
The NDP leader also insisted there is a sense of urgency on the ground in local NDP constituency campaigns where candidates have been working hard and are far better positioned than they were in 2007. He says his summer tour has been about providing support for those campaigns and reconnecting with NDP voters in hopes of everything falling into place this fall, or in re-establishing a foothold for down the road.
It's not quite a concession that the NDP can't win in November. No leader would ever do that.
But there is a sense that it's also about 2015 for Lingenfelter and the NDP.
On the first point, I'm not sure how it could have escaped Mandryk's attention that Lingenfelter made a priority of personally travelling to rural ridings starting with the NDP's leadership race - where he both made a point of visiting each of the province's 58 ridings, and committed to doing the same again upon winning the leadership. But there shouldn't be any surprise in that forming a significant part of Lingenfelter's organizational philosophy - even at a time when his core message was based on the goal of winning this year's election.
More importantly, though, I'd think that some effort to cultivate support around the province makes for a better strategy for this year alone than retreating to a much smaller set of ridings.
Even at the best of times, I'm not sure it's often a viable strategy to ignore 40% of the province based on the hope that every single one of a small list of targets will turn in a party's favour. But the calculus is especially stark for a party seeking to topple a sitting government.
After all, the NDP is a position of needing to win over voters who weren't in the party's column in 2007 in order to add seats to its current total. And while the easiest single path might be the one that involves the 10 seats where the NDP was closest in 2007, there may be multiple ways of getting to that point which the party would be foolish to ignore.
Indeed, there may be common factors that make a shift of 10 rural or semi-rural seats plausible even without some of the party's target seats working out as planned. (By way of example, it could be that the current federal push to demolish the Canadian Wheat Board might lead to more rural voters seeing that as an issue that might shift their votes provincially - resulting in a scenario where seats which the NDP hasn't pursued seriously the past couple of elections could come into play.)
And even if the NDP can't shift rural seats, it also needs to work on changing minds throughout the province in order to be able to tap into enough positive public sentiment to win votes. And that effort will be far easier if the Sask Party can't count on being substantially unopposed in large parts of the province.
Of course, it's also true that increased party engagement figures to result in benefits for the party in the longer term. And it's for the best if the NDP is keeping those considerations in mind as well - particularly since many of the Sask Party's recent rural walkovers are likely traceable to the NDP's adopting the opposite strategy when holding power was seen primarily as a matter of defending existing turf.
But I'd see those side effects as a bonus, rather than the sole or even primary motivation for putting in time and effort in rural Saskatchewan in an election year. And we shouldn't assume that long-term considerations are winning out over shorter-term ones where both might well point to the same strategy.