by Peter Armstrong, CBC Radio
Sept. 17, 2003
Howard Hampton looks more like a football player than a politician, especially when he's looming over your seat on the plane handing you a can of beer.
We flew up to the north country early in the campaign (an NDP strategy to beat the other candidates to the giant goose in Wawa) and Howie kept to himself.
The campaign team took the front seats of the Dash 7 and the reporters hunkered down behind them (mostly taking turns trying to read the next day's itinerary over the leader's shoulder). These are not the planes of presidential campaigns. There is no curtained enclosure for the "candidate" and his team.
The Dash 7 lurched and jerked its way out of Toronto and on to Sudbury.
If the other parties' leaders are gregarious and keepers of a certain politician's charm, Hampton is the introvert, the quiet Beatle.
He spent the flight north reading the next day's briefing notes, refining speeches, huddling with his advisors, and was generally occupied, as reporters drank beer and traded tales from elections past.
But after the campaign swing through the north (and a late-night palaver between reporters and NDP staffers in a Sudbury tavern), Hampton made the effort, wandering the plane's aisle, handing out beers and chatting with the 15 cameramen, producers and reporters following the Public Power campaign.
That's when you see the breadth of the man's shoulders, the beer can barely visible in his giant left hand. That's when you (against better judgment) wonder who would win the contest if the three candidates were simply put in a field and left to fight it out.
Even the Tory spies conceded defeat on that front.
(Editor's note: The Conservatives have dispatched party workers to follow the other two campaigns. They chase the buses and planes in rental cars, driving like hell to make it from event to event and send missives back to the infamous Tory war-room. But that, as they say, is another story.)
So, Hampton shook hands and made friendly on the long ride back to Toronto's Buttonville airport, where the orange Public Power buses waited on the runway to spirit us back home.
Looking back, it's hard to tell what prompted Hampton's (however fleeting) change from introvert to bartender. Fact is, he's probably somewhere in between � weighing the part of himself that wants to sit in the back row and trade stories from the "good old days" against that part that desperately needs to carve out a niche with this campaign.
So far, he's focused on the latter, and the south, leaving the north in the hands of local campaigns. And maybe that's a good thing. With Hurricane Isabel now impending, the Dash 7 may be a little much.