Vote split could be game changer in mayor's race, analysts say

Calgary's current mayor may keep his job despite a lot of competition from one longtime councillor and the former president of the PC Party in Alberta, a few municipal political watchers say.

Two candidates are expected to fight for anti-Nenshi supporters

As of Monday afternoon, eight candidates, including current mayor Naheed Nenshi, had thrown their names in for the Calgary mayoral race. (Brian Burnett/CBC)

Calgary's current mayor may keep his job despite a lot of competition, a few municipal political watchers say.

At least seven people are racing Naheed Nenshi for the top job on council. A couple are expected to put up a good fight. 

The official candidate list is finalized and released at noon on Tuesday.

Nenshi has been a popular mayor, and won the last election with 74 per cent of the vote. He's now running for a third term.

The Calgary Eyeopener turned to independent pollster and political commentator Janet Brown and Marc Henry, president of ThinkHQ Public Affairs and chief of staff to former mayor Dave Bronconnier, for insight into who they've identified as Nenshi's top competitors.

They say Calgary councillor Andre Chabot and former PC Party president Bill Smith will lead the anti-Nenshi race — but may split the vote.

The two politics watchers spoke with host David Gray on Monday.

Marc Henry: The race is going to be interesting, largely because of retirements. You've got four wards that are open. You've got another four wards where you've got incumbents, but they may be interesting races just given the dynamics of the wards.

Marc Henry is president of polling company ThinkHQ Public Affairs. He was the chief of staff to former Calgary mayor Dave Bronconnier. (CBC)

This is the first time in a generation that you've had a boundary redistribution as big as this one, so a lot of the wards are different. People may be living in different wards than they were living in the last election.

Janet Brown: And the reason that municipal elections usually aren't all that interesting is because in municipal politics, it's really hard to unseat an incumbent, so we need a race... where there are fewer incumbents to make it interesting.

Janet Brown is a Calgary-based pollster. (CBC)

Without the presence of political parties and a lot of money and stuff like that, you know, incumbent politicians have the name recognition, they've got the support base and everything.

And like I said, it's really hard to unseat an incumbent.

Janet Brown: I think there is a serious competitor in Bill Smith. I think this race is going to be more competitive than the race four years ago, but even Bill Smith … with the money he's got behind him and the … organization he's got behind him, … it's a real uphill climb for him. He's going to have to run an absolutely flawless campaign.

Bill Smith is the former president of the PC Party in Alberta. (Shannon Scott/CBC)

He's been pretty quiet so far. He's going to have to start coming on strong. He's going to have to run a flawless campaign and probably Nenshi's going to have to meet him halfway by making some serious blunders.

Marc Henry: Now, those who do know him, generally like him. His favourables are pretty good among those who know him. But most people don't — and that's his challenge with 28 days to go.

And he's up against a mayor who has had very, very good approval numbers over the years.

Naheed Nenshi, who was first elected mayor in 2010, is runnig for a third term in office. (Evelyne Asselin/CBC)

Janet Brown: I think when Andre Chabot decided he was going to run for mayor, probably it was a calculation based on the fact that … his ward was changing significantly and it was probably going to make it … complicated to re-run.

And then I think he saw himself as the guy who was going to be the anti-Nenshi candidate, that the anti-Nenshi vote was going to sort of congeal around him.

And for Andre Chabot, Bill Smith coming into the race has really upset the apple cart. And I think a whole bunch of the organizers and the money that Chabot was just thinking would automatically come to him, ended up sort of being redirected to Bill Smith.

Coun. Andre Chabot represented Ward 10 in eastern Calgary before throwing his hat into the mayor's race. (CBC)

But it doesn't look like Andre Chabot's ready to back down and he's still going to sort of fight for this one.

The fact that both of them are in the race makes it even less likely that, you know, someone's going to be able to unseat Nenshi.

Marc Henry: The biggest benefit that Bill Smith has over Andre Chabot is organization. He's got a machine. He was former president of the PC Party in Alberta.

He's got an informal network of people who know how to run campaigns, he's got good money, he's got good volunteers, good organization, and you know, those are things that Andre I don't think has to the same degree.

This interview has been edited for length. Listen to the full interview from the Calgary Eyeopener.

With files from Falice Chin and the Calgary Eyeopener.