Andrea Horwath knows this is her last best shot.
The leader of the Ontario New Democrats will go into the 2018 election as the veteran campaigner, but also as the politician with the most to gain and the least to lose.
In contrast to the internecine style in the Progressive Conservative Party, the Ontario NDP are more forgiving of their leaders. Eventually, though, time does run out.
Former Ontario NDP leader Howard Hampton took three swings at the plate, and 2018 will be Horwath’s third go-around on the election carousel. If things don’t go her way then it’s off to the world of board memberships and policy papers.
So expect a swing for the fences campaign from Horwath, who will try to position herself as a populist with a purpose, a leader who doesn’t do the right thing for votes, but rather for the right reasons.
The NDP team is hoping dissatisfaction with Wynne combined with a wariness of Progressive Conservative Leader Patrick Brown will swell into an orange wave propelling Horwath into office.
The precedent certainly exists in Ontario. In 1990, voters punished then-premier David Peterson for calling an early election and gave Bob Rae’s NDP a majority. Not until Rachel Notley won Alberta has there been a provincial New Democratic shocker of the same magnitude.
Could it happen again?
Peterson was asked that recently and his response cut to the very core of the trouble for the Ontario NDP.
Andrea Horwath is no Bob Rae.
VIDEO: Former Premier David Peterson on Andrea Horwath’s chances in 2018 Ontario election.
Despite polling that often shows Horwath is the most likeable Ontario leader, it hasn’t yet translated into any discernable momentum. Part of that is Kathleen Wynne’s habit of swiping NDP platform planks like the $15 per hour minimum wage, but also because Horwath still seems to be searching for how to present herself.
In a recent interview on Focus Ontario, she seemed to be taking speaking cues from both Sarah Palin and Doug Ford. She drops the “g” in words like “cuttin’” and then says “folks” deserve better. Palin and Ford are both widely lampooned for these speech affectations, yet Horwath hopes her version of plain talk will ring true.
Plus with her experience, Horwath should be an expert at serving up a pithy quote or soundbite, yet she stumbles over her talking points, mixes her metaphors, and regularly shanks easy questions from reporters deep into the legislative woods.
Populists must be popular to win, and the trouble for Andrea Horwath and the Ontario NDP is simply being folksy and likeable rarely gets you into power.