Heading into a pivotal weekend in the Ontario Liberal leadership race, it was about as strong a statement as a candidate could make.
At a Thursday-morning press conference, Kathleen Wynne introduced John Wilkinson – a much-coveted former minister previously seen to be either neutral or leaning toward Sandra Pupatello – as her new campaign chair.
Then, Glen Murray turned up to announce that he was abandoning his own candidacy to throw his support behind Ms. Wynne as well.
Mr. Murray is the very epitome of a downtown Liberal; Mr. Wilkinson is an unflashy former minister who serves as a flag-bearer for the Liberals’ diminished rural ranks. Suffice it to say, they bring different things to the table. But together, they also offered the one thing Ms. Wynne’s campaign team really wants: a sense of overpowering momentum.
If that seems an obvious aim for any leadership candidate, it’s not. The sort of convention the Liberals will hold later this month, for which they will select delegates this weekend, has some history of “Anybody but …” movements. So front-runners are sometimes happy to keep their heads down and be as inoffensive as possible.
Ms. Wynne appears to have surmised that she has the opposite challenge. Very few Liberals dislike her; she’s thoughtful, approachable, and displays less ego than most politicians at her level. But they do wonder if she’s got what it takes to lead their party into a general election.
Next to Ms. Pupatello, a colourful personality whose main message is that she’s a fighter who can go head-to-head with opposition leaders Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath, the comparatively bookish Ms. Wynne can come off as unassuming. It’s also impossible to spend much time in the company of Liberals without hearing questions about whether a relatively left-of-centre urbanite can compete enough outside Toronto.
Getting Mr. Wilkinson on board will help address that latter concern. And both endorsements were shows of strength that cut into Ms. Pupatello’s central message that she’s the one Liberals should want leading them into battle.
So, too, is much of the other muscle-flexing Ms. Wynne has been doing lately. At Thursday’s event, her supporters handed out flyers listing the various ways she’s ahead of the other five candidates – most Liberals seeking delegate spots on her behalf, most donors, most volunteers making phone calls, and so on.
Some of these stats are more meaningful than others. But there’s no denying that hers is the best-organized of the campaigns. And if she comes out of this weekend with the most elected delegates, as appears likely, even Ms. Pupatello’s advantage among party elites automatically granted votes at the convention could start to erode.
Through all this, Ms. Wynne is personally going out of her way to be as respectful to the other candidates and their supporters as possible. Her campaign will be counting on her usual niceness to counterbalance the more uncharacteristic swagger.