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Why Leadership Campaigns are Messier Than Elections

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Some political junkies may be aware there is a federal leadership convention this weekend.

The fact is that beyond the most obvious things -- Brian Topp and Tom Mulcair are the front-runners, and the king/queenmaker role isn't clear -- I'm not sure what to predict. I'll tell you why.

If this were an election, I'd be on solid ground commenting on the air game. In an election the air game really matters.

When I say air game I mean the way that people in politics communicate with the electorate. It's all about messaging, interviews, and getting your point of view in media and advertising.

A good air game can translate into votes in a serious way.

The thing is that leadership conventions are a much different beast than elections. Do you remember that old chestnut: "defense wins championships"? While I'm not sure that advanced statistics actually support that axiom, I can tell you that ground games win leadership races.

The ground game is political trench warfare. It's messy, tougher to quantify (except in final vote counts), and it's far more subject to the Clausewitzian fog of war.

Every leadership team -- to varying degrees -- has spent the last months selling memberships to supporters, getting those supporters to sign up more members, and sign up more members, and sign up more members. Then, the pressure game starts. People will start calling their friends and leaning on them to change their vote. And the campaigns start calling and calling and calling.

The real campaign being waged in a leadership race happens a long way away from the television debates and the convention floor. It's waged in community centres in Surrey B.C. and Longeuil, bars in Halifax and Biggar, and on the phone every day.

Our party is at a critical juncture. The next leader faces will face the highest expectations of any federal NDP leader in the history of the party. This convention will be their coming out, and the fruition of months of work. I predict we will see lots of orange, the campaign videos will feature clean, un-serifed typefaces, and starting on Monday New Democrats will renew the fight for a more progressive, fair and equal Canada.

Beyond that I have no idea.

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