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Illustration by Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail (Anthony Jenkins)
Illustration by Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail (Anthony Jenkins)

Robert Silver

Toronto mayoralty at least a two-and-a-half man race Add to ...

It's a two man race for mayor of Toronto, declared one Toronto columnist last weekend. John Tory versus George Smitherman - he declared - and everyone else is an also ran as of today.

Powerful, clear narrative, that's what columnists love. Ah if only it was true.

Another Star columnist set-out odds last week on who is likely to win the whole thing. Not surprisingly, Tory was the odds on favourite at 2-1, Smitherman the close runner up at 5-2. If this was a Vegas line, neither of them would get my betting dollars.

I'm not currently supporting any candidate for mayor (and don't expect to get involved in any of the campaigns) but if I was placing a bet based on Hepburn's odds, Adam Giambrone at 25-1 would get my money without blinking.

To be clear, I would never - ever - support Giambrone for mayor. We could not see the world more differently politically and I don't have any reason to think he would be a good, or even competent mayor. At best he is four more years of David Miller (shiver!) and he may be far worse than him (yes, it is possible).

And yet I think the odds of Giambrone winning next year's race are good. Far from a sure thing but his path to victory is pretty clear to me. Here's why:

1. Presuming Giambrone can consolidate David Miller's 2003 organization along with Jack Layton and Olivia Chow's teams then he starts with a likely voting floor of 25-30 per cent. Based on everything I know, Giambrone is very close to consolidating those teams including the critical union support (just because they can't donate money, doesn't mean they can't or at least won't donate workers, which is even more valuable given the absurdly low spending limits in Toronto). A 25 per cent floor is way more than nothing.

2. Giambrone's level of support will be artificially low in public opinion polls for the first six months of the campaign. Two reasons for this:

a) They are all about name recognition in early days and his is much lower than Tory or Smitherman; and b) Winning municipal campaigns is all about knowing where your vote is and pulling it (given the dismally low turnout). Giambrone will know where his vote is and how to get them out.

Being low (but not dismally so) in the polls is a huge advantage for him. The race will focus on the two front-runners while he can grow into being a candidate and quietly go about his business under the radar. Huge advantage.

3. I expect the first six-months will become a slug-fest between Tory and Smitherman. It will make for great TV and will be lots of fun. It also risks alienating lots of voters who actually think the election should be about something more than personality (which is not to suggest that Tory and Smitherman aren't substantive people. They both are very smart people, this is more a prediction on how the campaign narrative may develop).

4. Giambrone has an opportunity in the back half of the campaign to defend Miller's record on some issues (I would imagine transit and environment - positions that while certainly not popular with a majority of Torontonians, are popular with the core lefty base, which is what Giambrone needs to get his 25 per cent base cited above) and differentiate himself on other issues while presenting himself as the young voice of change. If done right, this can easily get him the 5-10 per cent above the base he starts with once people start really paying attention to the election in September that he needs to eke out a narrow victory.

Now of course Giambrone's campaign won't operate in a vacuum, Smitherman in particular will be targeting downtown voters who care about environmental issues that risks cutting into Giambrone's base. None of this should be taken as an absolute prediction - it is way, way too early for that.

My real point is it is also way, way too early for columnists to be declaring it a two-man race when there are lots of very plausible scenatios for other candidates to win this thing.

(Illustration by Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

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