Saskatoon mayoral campaign comes down to two-man race

Posted on October 25, 2016 in

Of the three leading candidates for mayor, I thought Charlie Clark had the least potential to pick up steam, and Kelley Moore had the most. Now a poll is saying the opposite, which goes to show how much I know.

(Another recent poll shows quite different results, but it cites no margin of error and therefor is as suspect as an unshuffled deck of cards. We will ignore it for the purposes of this discussion.)

I had expected that undecided voters who wanted change at city hall would settle out disproportionately in favour of Moore, the outsider, potentially the first woman to be mayor of Saskatoon. Instead, they are rallying to the veteran city councillor Clark and his promise of change, but not too much change. He is the candidate of change lite.

Clark now is almost within reach of four-term incumbent Don Atchison, who has led from the start and remains in front, but by a diminishing margin. Undecided voters who think four terms is enough now will know which way to go in what is shaping up as a two-way race, just not the one I expected.

Clark hasn’t exactly lit it up in the last week — does he ever? — but neither has he hurt himself. His ground game apparently is paying dividends late in the game. He’s got the cyclists working for him. If you have seen a cyclist in recent days blowing though a stop sign or blocking a whole lane of busy traffic, he probably was delivering Clark’s campaign flyers.

Moore’s campaign still is reeling after a disastrous week preceding her precipitous slide in the polls. Showing her political inexperience, she drew fire, almost unbelievably, from the civic unions and the North Saskatoon Business Association, both. That’s a first, as far as I am aware. Moore’s numbers now are depleted by voters thinking: We don’t need four years of this.

At the last debate, Moore found herself explaining instead of campaigning, always a harbinger of political doom. Under pressure, she wilted. For her to get back into contention, Clark and Atchison would have to crash into each other and knock each other out going after the same voter. She would have avoided the cow pies had she served a term on city council before she ran for mayor.

Moore’s losses are Clark’s gains. He still hasn’t caught Atchison, though. Atchison’s campaign has been more impressive than a lot of his critics expected. He has outperformed the other two, I would say, with his steadiness, his command of issues and even his imagination. He has outperformed himself, as well. This has been his best, by far, of five campaigns. Whatever else can be said of Atchison after his multiple terms in office, he is not even close to out of gas.

What keeps any campaign analysis from being decisive is that so many voters — 17 per cent, according the poll — remain undecided. They’re not agonizing over the alternatives, I suspect. More likely, they hadn’t thought at all about voting until the pollster called.

This election still is theirs to decide, quite possibly in the voting booth. There, Atchison has the advantage. Undecided voters tend to support the familiar and no one in Saskatoon is more familiar to more people than Don Atchison. All Clark’s campaign has to do is find all those undecided voters and get them onside before Wednesday. Even the most dedicated cyclists will be tested.

However it shakes out, this has been an excellent campaign. We have three accomplished candidates who ran professional campaigns, who want the best for this city and who, in a very civilized way, made clear their distinctions. Saskatoon would be well served by any one of them as mayor.

It only remains now for the undecided to make up their minds already and tell the rest of us who it’s going to be. 

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