How will Harper compete with the Obama show?

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Much ado was made about Health Minister Tony Clementâe(TM)s visit to the Democratic National Convention in Denver this week.

Clementâe(TM)s eagle eye was apparently better focused on the Listeriosis crisis than Obamafest. Maybe. But the more interesting question is why would any Canadian politician âe" especially a Conservative, especially at the cusp of our own federal election âe" want to schmooze with unity-seeking and Obama-loving Democrats?

With Transport Minister Lawrence Canon and Government House Leader Peter Van Loan in tow, Clement explained away the sojourn as part of a broader effort to âeoeinjectâe Canadian interests into U.S. politics.

Sure, because weâe(TM)ve managed to wield so much influence on U.S. party conventions before?

No. Clement and company hopped the border for an intel-gathering mission that has everything to do with positioning and pandering. So whatâe(TM)s in it for us?

Harper holding Governor General Michaëlle Jean back from the Paralympics is all the confirmation we need to know that an election call is afoot.

Our Tories are nothing if not a savvy bunch, with Harper the top strategist of them all. If they are mobilizing to minimize the impact of a potential Obama victory in November, we should all put money on one.

Harper wants to avoid a campaign on the heels of a political spectacle like Obama being crowned the second coming. Never mind any of the domestic factors.

The political logic is staggeringly simple. The Liberals âe" even the NDP âe" stand to be bolstered by such mainstreaming as will occur during the U.S. campaign of their positions on key issues like the economy, climate change, and the Middle East.

After six years of an increasingly ostracized war, the Bush administration lumbers to the end of its term amidst darkening deficit and debt, a brutalizing mortgage crisis, and soaring fuel costs. American voters not only regard Bush as the most unpopular president in U.S. history, they are clamoring for the very change that Obama so confidently guarantees.

Therein lies Harperâe(TM)s problem.

Obama fever has infected Canadian observers, too. We seem to have hitched âe" as eagerly as so many Americans have done âe" a mighty wagon of hope to Obamaâe(TM)s rising star (recall the June Strategic Counsel poll that showed we heart Obama more than our own leaders).

As 75,000 plus devotees crowd into the Invesco Centre in Denver tonight to witness Obama deliver the mother of all speeches, the question at the top of the whiteboard in the Tory war room should read THE OBAMA FACTOR: will Canadian voters elect a government that would oppose an electrified, progressive U.S. agenda?

If the results of a PCO poll last week that handed Harperâe(TM)s Tories a 34% approval rating werenâe(TM)t enough to get their boots a-shaking, the notion of running a pro forma Conservative campaign under the heavy shadow of an Obama ascent should have them worried. That same poll indicates that the economy has wormed to the top of our list of concerns (thanks, unrelenting gas prices).

Obamaâe(TM)s proposal for an Iraq pullout timetable was so effective that the White House is now running with it. And Obamaâe(TM)s famous intimations about revisiting NAFTA âe" or at least limiting free trade to some degree âe" played well in Canada. We can bet the Harper strategist pencils are frantically retooling the campaign rhetoric.

Canadians are as ready for a referendum on their ruling party as Americans are. The general mood âe" at least the electoral one âe" can best be described as sour. Which is surely a critical factor for Team Harper as they wave a wet finger in the air to make one of two unpalatable choices: call an election now and hope to beat the American campaign buzz; or go later and sell their Tory agenda to an electorate nursing one hell of an Obama victory hangover.

So far, Obama and the Democratic Party have achieved most of the top items on their to-do list this week in Denver. Unite the party âe" check. Confirm the Clintons as solid backers âe" check. Unleash Biden as the perfect yang to Obamaâe(TM)s ying âe" check. Place the party and all of its dreams into Obamaâe(TM)s rock star hands âe" um, check.

And so the campaign âe" theirs and ours âe" has already begun. The challenge for Harper is to explain to voters how his partyâe(TM)s Conservative agenda could viably dovetail with the new White Houseâe(TM)s.

The Liberals and NDP only need to convince us that it canâe(TM)t. With tides turned so squarely against Conservatism and the pro-war agenda, they have one hell of a clear shot.

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