When I quit the Olivia Chow mayoral campaign – because she’d not told the truth to the media, among other things – guess who was the first person to call me down in the States?
“Warren, old buddy,” he said. “We’ve had our differences, but I want you to chin up. Rob and I like you and respect you. Let’s get together when you get home.”
When you’re a political chew toy, you tend to remember calls like that one: you remember who called, and who didn’t. So, we stayed in touch after that. We did TV political panels together, and we talked pretty regularly. I told him he shouldn’t run for mayor again, because John Tory was doing a great job, and John would cream him. He should run instead to be Premier, I told him.
There’s clearly a market these days for populist conservatives who defy the conventional wisdom, and say what they think, I told him. And there were lots of reasons why he’d be a formidable PC leadership candidate.
- Doug’s working hard: Every plugged-in PC is telling me the same thing: “Doug’s working the phones. Doug’s reaching out. Doug’s doing all the right things.” He’s doing what a candidate has to do, in a race as short as this one: he’s working his tail off.
- Doug’s disciplined: I think his musings about scrapping a carbon tax are a mistake – we need it (as a province) and his party needs it (because it finances their entire platform). But apart from that, he hasn’t blown any feet off, and he’s saying the kind of stuff card-carrying Conservatives love.
- Doug has early support: Planning a rally this early in a campaign is a big risk: it takes a lot of time and hard work to get hundreds of people to come out to one of your events. Well, Doug got out thousands out for a Toronto rally last week, and in a very short time frame, too. It gave him momentum, and the visuals were pretty stunning – not everyone there was an old white guy. At all.
- Doug’s evolved: A few weeks ago, I watched TVO’s fun Political Blind Date show, because Doug and Jagmeet Singh were on, and because I like both of them. Jagmeet was engaging, warm and likeable, as you’d expect. But so was Doug – big time. I was shocked at how he had evolved as a politician. Gone is the shouty city councillor, always being forced to defend his brother’s bad behaviour. In its place was a HOAG – a Hell Of A Guy.
- Doug’s better at retail: The TVO show also revealed something else. You could tell that the participants in the broadcast – the Dippers who agreed to the match-up, and perhaps the TVO producers who came up with the idea – expected Doug to be what he had always been: a bit of circus act, a trained bear riding a tiny bike in the centre ring. Someone to be laughed at. Well, guess what? He was way better in the mano-a-mano segments than Jagmeet was. Way.
- Doug has a USP: A Unique Selling Proposition, that is. It’s easy to see how to some disengaged voters – that is, 99 per cent of voters – would see Kathleen Wynne, Andrea Horwath, Caroline Mulroney and Christine Elliott as all kind of the same thing. You know: female, centrist, careful, establishment. Doug is none of those. He offers the only clear alternative, for the voters who are after one. (Voters are always after one.)
- Doug gives quote: The guy is a quote machine. The microphone loves him. He never uses a 20-dollar word when a two-dollar word would suffice. He never uses jargon and acronyms and Newspeak. He talks about values. He knows facts tell – but stories sell. Doug Ford is a one-man media machine.
- Doug dominates vote-rich GTA: An important Mainstream poll – little-noticed in last week’s madness – apparently showed that only one PC leadership candidate was very strong in the part of the province that decides who gets to be government: Toronto. In 416/905, he dominates. That matters. Remember: his brother crushed George Smitherman, and Doug came within 60,000 votes in his mayoral run. Ford Nation knows how to win in GTA.
- Doug ain’t dumb: I worked for a populist-type politician who everyone – from the Martinites to the media – always dismissed. They always put him down. They always said he was dumb, when he was way (way) smarter than all of them. Doug Ford, so far, is running a very smart campaign. If he can keep his mouth under control, he’s got a real shot at winning.
- Doug is reaching out: He did with me. And I know he’s reaching out to many others who have criticized him in the past: “The door is open,” he’s telling them. “Just walk through it.” In a leadership race – and in an election – it’s all about connection. Doug is connecting. He’s reaching out.
Can Doug Ford win? Damn right he can. Underestimate him at your peril.