Can Simon O’Connor win the Mayoralty?

National leader Simon Bridges and National MP Simon O’Connor

National’s Tamaki MP Simon O’Connor has declared he is considering a run for the Auckland Mayoralty. He has yet to commit to running and faces some pretty significant problems in running a successful campaign.

Not a Dominant Candidate

O’Connor is a worthy soul, but he is not someone who has set the world on fire in Wellington and is not talked of as a heavyweight member of a future National Government.

This lack of dominance is unlikely to intimidate right-wing candidates out of the race, with John Palino and Mark Thomas both considering running again. Unless O’Connor can chase out right-wing candidates he will face the problem of vote splitting. In a tight race, this could be the difference between winning and losing.

Lack of Name Recognition

O’Connor is not exactly a household name in Auckland. He is the kind of inoffensive individual who is probably not a household name in his own household, which makes it likely that the smart people on the left will run a poll now or early in the new year that shows O’Connor is at under 5% name recognition. This will be a hard result to spin away.

The Blink Test

O’Connor is very similar to Bill English. He just resonates failure. In 2002 there was no great passion in National for a campaign led by Bill English. The passion was somewhat elevated in 2017 but English still managed to come across as a guy that one voted for because he was the least bad option, not a man who was destined to take New Zealand in a new direction.

Like English, O’Connor does not pass the blink test. He just looks wrong, and in politics, this means a lot. He is not going to overwhelm his opponents with charisma. Voters are not going to suddenly pick up the phone and listen to O’Connor in the way Jacinda Ardern was listened to when she became Labour leader.

Party Support

O’Connor would likely be blessed with National’s support. This blessing is a huge help in the campaign but, as any insider knows, the National Party in Auckland is not exactly competent. There are no good backroom campaigners in National in Auckland, and unless Steve Joyce can be persuaded to do the party that shafted him when he ran for leader a huge favour, an O’Connor campaign will not have strong campaign leadership.

Party members may get motivated to campaign for O’Connor, but they will run up against a voting public who won’t see what all the fuss is about. This becomes very hard on the campaigners, as it is never pleasant having voters being uninterested in your candidate.

John Tamihere may have done O’Connor a huge favour by getting Michelle Boag on his campaign. Boag’s track record of losing elections is second to none, and O’Connor would be truly blessed if he manages to avoid having Boag involved in his campaign.

Over-reliance on his brother in law, Simon Bridges, supporting his campaign is probably not a good idea. Bridges is known to hold similar opinions of O’Connor as he does of Maureen Pugh, and Bridges will not lift a finger to help if he thinks O’Connor losing will harm National’s chances of getting back into government.

Labour Opposition

Labour will reflectively oppose O’Connor, even if they are somewhat annoyed at Goff. They will help Goff by ensuring that O’Connor’s parliamentary career is thoroughly reviewed and his more outlandish statements easily available to the Goff campaign. Labour activists have long been willing to turn out for the cause rather than the candidate, and after long practice usually run a better ground game than National even with extremely uninspiring candidates.

Attacks on Social Issues

O’Connor trained as a Catholic Priest. He is very, very conservative on social issues.

If the left manages to prise their good backroom operators away from the private sector for long enough to run a campaign they will hammer O’Connor on gay rights, abortion and marijuana. He may try to equivocate but he could easily fall victim to campaigns by gays and feminists who are vicious campaigners. He definitely does not have the Trump-like ability to say that Auckland needs a strong mayor with a focus on rates and council rates and that poofters and hairy legged sheilas should stop whinging and help find solutions to getting rates under control.

Labour can force the issue by addressing abortion early next year. O’Connor will be forced to take a firm position that will be off-putting for many Aucklanders.

It is not impossible to envisage an O’Connor campaign being successful. It is just very hard. In my next post a route to victory will be considered.

 


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Simon has had an interest in campaigning since the 1980 Presidential Campaign, and has followed campaigns closely since then. His first campaign was getting a 4th former successfully elected to a school Board of Trustees. He was harassed by people who thought it should have been a 7th former and learned that campaigners need thick skins.

 

In 2000 & 2001 Simon completed a Master of Arts in Politics through Otago University, with Prof Bob Catley, a former ALP Member of Parliament, as his supervisor. Bob’s direct approach to campaigns taught Simon a huge amount about professionalism, staying focused and winning.

Simon has been involved in a large number of campaigns for selection, general elections, local body elections, ending monopolies and opposing public projects. He does not comment on specific campaigns other than to use anecdotes to illustrate points.

Simon works with a small number of campaign professionals and outsources work where others have a superior skill set in specific areas.

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