Metro column: Could Naheed Nenshi be the real ‘game changer’?
When Mayor Bronconnier announced in February he would not seek another term, there was a sudden buzz in the air.
There was another — albeit smaller — buzz when Liberal MLA Kent Hehr proclaimed he would run for the open seat. Then again, a little more public interest began to percolate when Ald. Ric McIver made the long anticipated announcement of his intention to win the centre chair at the council table.
Then in August, Barb Higgins, a familiar face to any Calgarian with a television and an interest in knowing what’s going on in the world, created the biggest buzz of all by declaring she was entering the fray. The media and the public immediately began talking about her as a potential “game changer” in the mayoral election.
Since then, however, Bronconnier has not publicly spoken about the election, Hehr has dropped out of the race, and McIver and Higgins are running solid campaigns filled with a traditional amount of “substance” — which is to say, enough to get voters curious, but not enough to get the candidate into trouble.
Behind all of this buzz, though, there is a candidate who has steadily risen in the polls from dead last in July to third place.
Much has been said about Naheed Nenshi as nothing more than the “social media candidate” because of his skills at using Facebook, Twitter, iPhone apps and text messages to get his ideas out to the public. Social media can become an echo chamber, and I too wondered if he might be living in a world of friends just telling him what he wanted to hear.
But I’m starting to think Nenshi may actually win. (My editor changed this sentence from my original and I think it may have changed my intent a little. The original sentence was “But I’m starting to think Nenshi has an actual chance to win.”)
During two mayoral forums this week, the audience was asked to vote for who they thought should be our next mayor. In both cases, Nenshi won the straw poll. And not just by a little bit.
At both events he got more than 50 per cent of the vote.
In both cases, McIver barely even registered.
How is it that a little-known candidate can have such sway over a room of people, the majority of whom have probably never heard of Twitter before, while the candidate leading in the polls has such a dismal showing?
It looks like Calgarians who are interested and concerned about the issues enough to show up to a mayoral forum are voting for Nenshi in great numbers, while the uninformed — who perhaps are relying more on name recognition — are getting behind McIver.
Whatever the reason for this split, the question for both candidates is clear: Will there be more engaged or more traditional voters on Election Day? The answer may well determine who leads our city for the next three years.