|Premier Gordon Campbell celebrates escaping the wreckage of the BC Liberal leadership race, background|
If it even happens Saturday that is - as the PIN-GATE problem means thousands of BC Liberal members new and old may be disenfranchised because they haven't yet received their voting Personal Idenitification Number by mail!
BC Liberal Party officials and leadership campaigns for contenders Christy Clark, Kevin Falcon, George Abbott and Mike de Jong are frantically meeting now to try to resolve the problem so the vote can proceed, possibly with extended hours or even days to complete.
And breaking news from the Globe and Mail - the vote will proceed Saturday! But Intelivote Systems Inc., the Nova-Scotia-based electronic voting system company, still can't explain why PIN numbers mailed in Ottawa last Wednesday or Thursday had not yet arrived.
But for those of us in the political prediction business this is a total nightmare of complexity: polling from both outside and campaign sources shows Christy Clark with the lead - even her competitors privately acknowledge that.
But the regional weighted vote adopted earlier this month at a special convention changes the game dramatically.
5,000 members in a Surrey riding have the same 100 points as a 500 member riding in northern BC - and with 85 BC ridings, their are 8,500 points up for grab. The winner needs 4,251 or more.
So, what are the prognosticators saying?
My good friend and veteran political handicapper Will McMartin in The Tyee goes where pundit angels fear to tread - almost - with this prediction:
"The second-round results, then: Falcon, 2,975; Clark, 2,825; and Abbott, 2,700. Incredibly, fewer than 300 votes could separate the top three candidates, and the one with the fewest will be dropped before the third and final tally.....Our choice(s) for the winner on Saturday, and next premier of British Columbia: either Kevin Falcon or George Abbott."
Hmmmm - McMartin previously fearlessly gave Abbott the best odds a few weeks back.
Bernard von Schulmann of The BC Iconoclast is a renewed BC Liberal member with lots of varied political experience.
Von Schulmann bravely goes further than McMartin - predicting a Kevin Falcon victory on Ballot 3:
Kevin Falcon - 4700
Christy Clark - 3800"
Global TV's veteran Victoria bureau chief Keith Baldrey has covered many a leadership race - he and I still fondly remember the incredible free food and drinks at the 1983 Conservative Party leadership battle where Brian Mulroney deposed Joe Clark in Ottawa.
Baldrey leans towards Clark but then hedges his bets in a Surrey Now column this week:
"Can Christy Clark be stopped from winning the B.C. Liberal party leadership? ....Clark can be tracking high in the polls, but if her team does not identify their supporters and get them to vote in sufficient numbers, the stage will be set for Abbott or Falcon to leapfrog her on the third count.
But I'm not betting against her (or on her either; the second-choice element makes things too unpredictable)."
Sacha Peter over at BC Election 2013 gives Kevin Falcon the win over Christy Clark, by 53% to 47%.
As for myself, this is one of the toughest challenges I've faced to predict.
I've had a hard time all along seeing how Christy Clark could win with just one lonely MLA from the caucus supporting her - Harry Bloy - but the polling numbers and fear in the other camps certainly has me second guessing that. Clark's enormous federal Liberal Party connections - which she has lamely tried to deny or hide - could split the classic BC Liberal - and prior to that Social Credit - "free enterprise" or right wing alliance of federal Conservatives and federal Liberals by creating way too much Grit imbalance.
Already red-meat Tories like John Reynolds and others are warning that a Clark victory would lead to a provincial BC Conservative Party revival that would split the right's voters and let the NDP win the next election. No one should underestimate how much animosity Clark's bashing of the Stephen Harper Conservative federal government on her CKNW show over that past few years has alienated that side of the family.
Kevin Falcon should be the overwhelming favourite if you look at the combination of his successes - majority of cabinet members supporting him plus lots of MLAs, the most money, the most business community support by a wide margin, the party establishment backing - it should translate into a no-brainer win.
But Falcon's negative polling numbers indicate a basic truth - he is an unrepentant, hard-edged right-winger who makes many voters uncomfortable. And since winning elections is what this is about, Falcon has a problem. And he is the Conservative "ying" to Clark's Liberal "yang" - the federal Liberal side has problems with Falcon's clear connections to the Harper government and its players in BC.
George Abbott could be the beneficiary of both Clark's and Falcon's problems - or he could be left in the dust. Abbott has the advantage of the regional weighted vote and being a compromise without the strong federal Tory or Grit ties, plus being a much friendlier face to government than Gordon Campbell has been. Is that enough? Hard to say.
Then there's turnout. There are over 90,000 members but it's doubtful anywhere near all of them will vote - but will the turnout be 60%? 40%?
And will the 30,000 or so members who were in good standing prior to Campbell's resignation vote at a much higher percentage than the newbies signed up by the four camps? Probably so.
Will dubious PIN Parties carry the day, where PIN numbers and names are given to the campaign so there is a 100% turnout of some mass or block signups? It allegedly helped Gordon Campbell himself triumph over then-leader Gordon Wilson and challenger Gordon Gibson in 1993 - the last BC Liberal contest.
The company running the vote says it could restrict the number of votes coming from one computer or telephone number - but the BC Liberals have given no such instructions. [The same issue will dog the NDP later during their vote.]
So, if you put the proverbial gun to my head and force me to predict, I'm going to narrow it down to Falcon or Abbott with errr, ummm, uhhhh - the new premier being....Kevin Falcon.
But whatever you do, don't make any bets - there are three absolutely possible winners and I'm keeping my own political betting money in my pocket.
It will be a fascinating vote, whenever it takes place!
Stay tuned for more updates - and give me your predictions too!
My friend Stacey Robinsmith at Leftcoast.ca makes his choice - and says George Abbott will come up the middle. Plausible enough to me - we'll see later tonight..