Analysis

Can Doug Ford win Toronto's race for mayor?

The 'Ford flip' sent shockwaves through Toronto city hall on Friday but is Doug Ford a viable candidate in the race to succeed his brother as mayor?

Coun. Ford has some advantages, and some disadvantages, in bid to succeed his brother as mayor

Doug Ford, right, has been his brother's staunchest defender, and has stepped in to take his place in the race for mayor of Toronto. (TOMayorFord/Twitter)

Some are calling it the Fordian switch: Doug Ford's decision to grab the torch from his fallen brother in a last-minute bid to ensure the Ford name stays on the ballot.

In a frenzy of last-minute filings at the city clerk's office on Friday afternoon, Rob Ford was removed from the mayoralty ballot, and Doug Ford added in his place. Rob Ford, in hospital to treat an abdominal tumour his family says poses a serious threat to his health, will run for council in Doug Ford's former ward.

The move appears to be a gambit aimed at maximizing chances that the Fords will maintain a presence at city hall after the Oct. 27 vote. Doug Ford can benefit from the Ford name without the drug use scandal that has dogged his brother's term. Meanwhile Rob Ford will stand in Ward 2, where the family's support base is strong.

But will this gambit work? Will this move the needle in a mayoralty race in which Rob Ford was running second to John Tory before bowing out?

A handful of city hall watchers appeared on CBC Radio's Metro Morning Monday to mull the prospects of a Doug Ford mayoralty campaign.

Two brothers, far from identical

Jaime Watt, a former political strategist and executive chairman of the PR firm Navigator,said Doug Ford will be a very different candidate than his brother.

"Rob Ford and Doug Ford are two very different people," he told host Matt Galloway.

Rob Ford bowed out of the race for mayor of Toronto last week, citing his diagnosis of an abdominal tumour. His clinical team is awaiting the results of a biopsy, and it remains unclear how long the mayor could remain hospitalized. (Darren Calabrese/Canadian Press)

Watt said Rob Ford, who has served on council since 2000, is a stronger "retail politician" with a longer track record than his brother. Also prior to Friday's chaotic events, Doug Ford repeatedly said he would not seek re-election for council and appeared keen to run his brother's re-election campaign, then get back to the family printing business.

"[Rob Ford] connects with people, he identifies with people, he's empathetic," said Watt. "Doug has been on council for less time and has really been the sidekick to his brother rather than a councillor so much in his own right. So I don't know if these skills will transfer over."

Will voters backlash?

Watt said one advantage Doug has is that he enters the race not having spent a cent of the $1.3 million candidate spending limit. The other candidates have been spending since early this year and will have less in their war chests down the stretch.

"I would use that money to blast a message that says 'I'm 'Rob Ford with business acumen,'" said Watt.

Ivor Tossell, a journalist who wrote a book about Rob Ford, said the move to run an ailing Rob Ford in Ward 2 might not sit right with voters.

Tossell said voters might ask "'Well, he's not well enough to run for mayor, how is he well enough to run for a council seat without possibly even showing up for it? Is this a consolation prize for the Fords and should it be treated that way?'"

Hamutal Dotan, editor-in-chief of Torontoist, said she's waiting to see whether Doug Ford the mayoral candidate continues his aggressive approach.

Doug Ford spent much of his time in office as his brother's staunchest defender, fiercely attacking his political opponents and getting into a very public scrapewith police chief Bill Blair.

He may have to tone down that abrasive approach.

"His elbows are sharper [than Rob Ford's]," said Dotan. "We need to see how he's going to present himself on the campaign trail."

Doug Ford must walk a fine line

Tossell said Doug Ford has to walk a political tightrope, presenting himself as the obvious choice for Rob Ford supporters while at the same time trying to downplay his role in defending his brother's bad behaviour.

"He's going to try to associate himself with his brother without trying to associate himself with all the negative aspects as well," said Tossell. "But of course Doug Ford was at his brother's side through every scandal, having his back, vouching for him. So I think a lot of the honesty issues are going to follow Doug Ford as well and we'll see how much that sticks."

A new wrinkle in the mayor's race

So how will Doug Ford's opponents respond to the switch?

When he bowed out, polls suggested Rob Ford was running second to former Progressive Conservative leader John Tory. Olivia Chow, a former NDP MP, was in third.

Dotan said Chow will try to paint conservatives Tory and Doug Ford with the same brush. Tory, meanwhile, will try to argue that Doug and Rob are one and the same and that it's time the Ford era came to an end.

It's unclear how Doug Ford's move to take his brother's place changes the dynamic of the Toronto mayoral race. Prior to Rob Ford's decision to drop out, polls pegged John Tory, right, as leading the race, while Olivia Chow was running third. (CBC)

Watt said he feels "the verdict is in" on the election, arguing it will be hard for Doug Ford to increase voter support beyond what his brother held.

"People who don't like Rob Ford are lost to Doug, they're not available to him," said Watt. "People seem to have decided and think Mr. Tory is what they want. I don’t see much in the opinion marketplace that is going to change that."

But Doug Holyday, a former council member who supported the Fords, does not agree. He said many voters who disliked Rob Ford's antics still support the cost-cutting, respect-for-taxpayers agenda that is the hallmark of the Ford brand.

"I think a lot of people haven't made their minds up yet," said Holyday.

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