The Globe and Mail has an in-depth investigation of where everything went wrong for the mayoral campaign of George Smitherman, written by Toronto Life alum John Lorinc. There’s a lot of meat about the who, what and when of the Smitherman camp’s missteps. The piece is required reading for anyone mulling a bid for mayor in 2014 (we’re looking at you, Adam Vaughan). Here, a quick sampling of the five main lessons.
1. Ford voters really didn’t care about the personal stuff
As the Smitherman camp settled into its summer of discontent, they brought Michael Marzolini, a Liberal pollster, in to tell them what was going wrong. In August, Marzolini ran a focus group in which a middle-aged woman said, simply, she was overlooking Ford’s personal issues, as long as he didn’t waste her taxes. So all those funny YouTube ads, and all the late-night signs (“Wife-beating, racist drunk for mayor!) basically didn’t matter.
2. In a year-long campaign, the trouble starts early
As far back as spring of this year, Smitherman’s camp was calling it a “phony war” for the mayor’s office. The phrase dates back to the ineffective fighting against the Nazis before the fall of France in 1940. It is not a phrase heard from winners, as a rule.
3. Smitherman didn’t know which way to lean
OK, this wasn’t exactly a secret, but it’s now clear that Smitherman didn’t know whether to run as a left-wing candidate or a right-wing, anti–David Miller insurgent. The waffling clearly cost him.
4. We’re not in government, dude. Simple sells
Smitherman insisted on announcing platform issues like they were government policies, with crisp memos that came out after “millions of questions.” He had to be told at least once that his campaign didn’t have an army of paid researchers. While the Smitherman campaign was trying to inundate voters with complex, well-thought-out policies, canvassers noticed that they kept running into people who knew Rob Ford’s story about the $77,000 plant-watering at city hall.
5. As late as October, the Smitherman campaign still didn’t know who Smitherman was
Probably the most damning point in the Lorinc piece is that even as late as this month, the campaign “continued to grapple with the vexing question of defining their man.” By that time, reporters could have basically stood in for Rob Ford at any debates he missed. Call it simple or call it well defined, but either way, it was what Smitherman wasn’t.