Thursday, March 24, 2011

A Tale of Two Leaders

In the dying hours of the 2010 Federal Election, Tony Abbott went on a campaign rampage. 36 hours without sleep. He did radio, he made appearances, and he even did late night talkback to fill those pesky hours between 2am and 4am.

Opinion was split as to what exactly it was he was trying to achieve - was it the image of the infatigable leader, or did he really think he needed every one of those hours to be productive if he thought he was going to win?

Of course, only he knows the answer. Nonetheless, a lot can be learnt about a leader, a party or a campaign by what the leader spends the final hours on.

US presidential campaigns are famous for leaders chasing the sun across the country, making airport hanger speeches where the leaders do everything they can do to ensure they are in the public consciousness on voting day.

The approaches of Keneally and O'Farrell as Saturday creeps closer and closer could not be more divergent.

Alexandra Smith wrote an excellent article that appears on the front page of the Herald today along with a big photo of Keneally, head thrown back laughing, along with some coal miners who look like they can't believe that they, of all people, are being campaigned to.

This is the thread that Smith picks up - Labor campaigning to coal miners is the Illawarra. These seats should be safe as houses for Labor, and given the swings required (Shellharbour on 26.8% and Keira on 22%) they still should be in the Labor column on Saturday night. That said, Heathcote on 8.8% and Kiama on 12% are ripe for Coalition picking.

Of course Labor running a campaign (in at least some shape or form) in every seat is a given - despite the fact that I live in O'Farrell's seat I've still been getting mailouts from him, and his branch members have still been active in the area handing out pamphlets at the station and doing what local members can be relied on to do.

But I haven't see O'Farrell - he has at risk seats to hit.

The Premier spending valuable hours in what are usually safe Labor seats in the Illawarra shows just how bad things have gotten. The combined effect of Federal Labor being a bit on the nose, NSW Labor being universally reviled and, no doubt, some bitterness about the David Campbell debacle, has Labor petrified that the seats may be in jeopardy.

O'Farrell, on the other hand, left yesterday for the Four Bus All State Tour (my name, not theirs). Four large Coalition busses, manned by O'Farrell and his shadow cabinet, will, between them, visit all 93 seats.

Of course, there's no way that O'Farrell has sufficient hubris to think he could win every seat. Rather, by making this tour, he sends messages. Every seat is in danger. The whole state wants change and we know it. Every seat is important and we want your vote.

I don't know his precise schedule, but assuming each bus goes to 26 electorates, that's still 9 electorates a day for each bus. When one considers the travelling time, as well as just how big some of the rural electorates are, it's a mammoth job.

No doubt the visits will be cursory at best. Of course, that's no issue - it's not the presence that is important, but rather the story in the local paper, or the big flashy event at the Westfield, or even just the "all 93 electorates" line that will be repeated as nauseum between now and Saturday.

Labor will lose on Saturday. It remains beyond doubt that it is a question of how much, not if. OF course neither party will admit that, but their plans for the last few days make it very clear that they know this.

The Premier is spending time in seats Labor hold as much as 20%. O'Farrell is visiting electorates in South-West Sydney - the home of Howard's battlers who kept the Federal Coalition in power for so long.

The question this raises is this - how long will these new Coalition voters stick around? A large victory should guarantee the Coalition at least 2 terms - but if they can turn dyed-in-the-wool Labor voters into Coalition voters (or even just into swinging voters) they could fundamentally alter the electoral map in Sydney.

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