Ryan Meili, guy I know, finishes a strong second.

Well, it turns out my – what’s the word, friend? acquaintance? – call him a friendly acquaintance, Ryan Meili, has turned in a pretty astounding performance in the Saskatchewan NDP leadership race.

Is “astounding” too strong a word? Granted, the convention process, with its preferential ballot, multiple rounds, and requirement that the winning candidate take at least half the vote, tends to inflate a second-place finisher’s results; the frontrunner’s opponents coalesce around the only alternative. But that doesn’t change the fact that Ryan, in his mid-30s, with no political experience, a minimal media profile, and – let’s be frank – a somewhat extraterrestrial public speaking manner, finished with 45% of the vote against a past cabinet minister.

Not to take anything away from Ryan, whose intelligence and work ethic I never doubted, but the main thing this result tells me is that it’s not only among the young leftyish New Democrats that I’m likeliest to know that there is scant enthusiasm for Dwain Lingenfelter’s leadership. He seems to be not particularly loved in his party as a whole. He might go over better in the general election, where moderate voters won’t begrudge his ideological flexibility, his support for nuclear power, or his recent decamping to Alberta to make some cash in the energy industry (what Saskatchewan resident doesn’t have a few good friends who’ve done the same?). Speaking as an occasional NDP voter, I have nothing against the guy on those grounds.

But if Link wants to become premier, he needs to – how do I put this? He needs to work harder to seem like an alright guy. Maybe he is an alright guy. Probably he is. But a lot of people who should be his supporters seem to think he isn’t.

I hope Link has been humbled by his narrower-than-expected victory. I hope he learns some lessons – and, if he’s smart, hires some organizers – from the second-place campaign. If he hasn’t, if he doesn’t, Ryan may find himself with another chance to run for the leadership, soon after the 2011 provincial election.

M.

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