Last night, Rocco Rossi announced that he was stepping down from the race for mayor because of the lack of support, shortly after a new poll showed him polling at merely 4% (within the margin of error to zero).
It was a classy end to a tumultuous day that will probably have a huge impact on the election. After the long line of seemingly repetitive debates and polls that predicted a victory for Rob Ford, many Torontonians may have lost any interest they had ever developed for the mayoral race. But October 13 will bring back attention to the Ford-Smitherman battle, because everything changed yesterday.
First, there was the poll – the first since June that hasn’t had Ford as the front-runner, in the words of the Star. For four long months, Rob Ford has been waving off all kinds of attacks: personal, political, intellectual, even institutional. Through it all, he has kept rising in the polls and by mid-September, it appeared as if he would win by a landslide. The latest poll by Ipsos Reid, however, shows Smitherman leading instead of Ford, albeit by only 1% – effectively in a statistical tie. But it’s remarkable given the aforementioned ‘landslide poll’, for these results indicate that Smitherman has made a tremendous leap while Rob Ford has sunk for the first time in the polls. Perhaps the anything-but-Rob-Ford movement is indeed working. In any case, it means that this race can’t be written off as a disappointing squib – not just yet. Perhaps the frontrunners remain imperfect, but the polls indicate that if nothing else, people are paying attention to the race and that voters cannot be written off as angry, disgruntled citizens seeking vengeance.
The second big event of the day, definitely precipitated by the results of the poll, was Rocco Rossi’s departure from the race.
“Under the current scenario, it has become clear that my message is not what the majority of Torontonians want to focus their attention on.
Accordingly, and respecting the obvious mood of the electorate to see this battle unfold, I am announcing tonight that I am withdrawing from the mayor’s race effective immediately.”
Rossi’s exit was hardly unexpected, for he was effectively politically dead for the past few weeks. In late August, rumors of Rocco Rossi quitting spread like wildfire. Sachin Aggarwal, his campaign manager at the time, reportedly suggested a drop out in favor of Smitherman – only to get fired (and later join Team Smitherman). Rossi responded by hiring a new campaign manager, celebrity spin doctor Warren Kinsella, andattempted to stage a spectacular comeback by suggesting a subway under Spadina (a vision that was met with loud criticism) and a raft of ads playing off the Italian mafia and Martin Scorsese’s 1990 hit Goodfellas (a disaster, they had to be pulled). Moves that were obviously designed to grab attention were quickly perceived as just that and failed, with the result that Rossi was pushed by many to join Sarah Thomson and drop out to endorse George Smitherman. He adamantly refused to quit, and even his last press release stated that he would “continue to talking about the issues that matter most to Torontonians.” He cited the fact that several more polls were due, and that his internal polling indicated his supporters would move to Rob Ford. However, it seems that he realized that it would simply be unrealistic to expect a win.
This leaves Joe Pantalone as the only legitimate dark horse in the race, and the City Hall veteran will not be too upset at getting underdog status all to himself. Even as the focus shifts to Rob Ford and George Smitherman, Pantolone will continue to rely on his support (not everyone hates David Miller) and position as only remaining left-of-center candidate to give him the chance of an unlikely victory.
In any case, the next ten days will be interesting to say the least. Let’s hope this long, drawn out, but somehow fascinating mayoral race attracts voter interest and drives people to the polls, in which case it may all have been worth it. Make no mistake, this has been one of the most momentous days in an election campaign longer than Rob Ford’s list of waste.