This magic moment

By: Sandford BorinsEvery political candidate searches for a “magic moment,” to quote Ben R. King and the Drifters, that can dramatically turn the campaign around. Sometimes the magic moment comes during a debate, sometimes it happens in a speech or impromptu talk, and sometimes it's a news story.In the 2006 Virginia Senate campaign, Republican incumbent George Allen was filmed using a racial epithet – macaca – to refer to a Democrat cameraman. The incident was posted on YouTube, downloaded over 500,000 times, and contributed mightily to Allen's surprise defeat.In the most recent federal election campaign, news that the RCMP had launched an investigation into the Liberal government's alleged leaking of its policy change on the taxation of income trusts gave credence to the Conservatives' corruption narrative, and led to an immediate drop in the polls for the Liberals, from which they never recovered.Magic moments also predated the Internet. In the 1984 federal party leaders' debate, Brian Mulroney confronted then Prime Minister John Turner over his acceptance of his predecessor Pierre Trudeau's last-minute patronage appointments. Mulroney's words, “you had an option, sir,” scored a knockout. That clip was often replayed by the media throughout the campaign; now, it would have been posted on YouTube and watched by millions.Ontario's parties are looking for their magic moments, but so far there haven't been any of significance, either in the leaders' debate or on the hustings. There are lots of postings of minor gaffes, for example John Tory telling a voter who attends the University of Ottawa that it was referred to as the U of Zero, but then instantly catching himself and saying that it's actually a very good school. This YouTube posting has attracted all of 8,000 downloads, hardly a significant number.Entering the second half of the Ontario campaign, the polling numbers don't seem to be moving from where they were at the start, namely a small Liberal lead that would translate into a minority government.The Liberals' reverse wedge seems to have been their most effective tactic, especially as there emerge rumblings of some Conservative candidates' disagreement with John Tory's position on support for faith-based schools. (Leadership means keeping your team singing from the same hymnal.)This tactic also appears more effective than the retrospective identification of Tory with Mike Harris. The Liberals' positive vision consists of a host of good news announcements (health, education, transportation, the environment) that an incumbent government can readily produce.The PC Party and NDP's negative narrative is focusing on McGuinty as a promise-breaker, particularly on the health tax, and this accusation appears to be sticking. The PC Party's positive vision is that it could do better than the Liberals in a variety of areas – for example policing, energy, and health – while at the same time removing the health tax, and keeping the books balanced.The NDP, of course, focuses on working families and the Green Party on committed environmentalists.To this point, none of these narratives appear to be compelling enough to move the polling numbers. Absent a magic moment, the Ontario election campaign is starting to resemble trench warfare – a lot of activity, but little net change.

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