The DPP mayoral nomination process for the other three cities has entered its final stages. It was supposed to be done last week, but the DPP gave itself a one week extension.
There’s not much doubt that the DPP will nominate Su Zhenchang 蘇貞昌 for Taipei City, but the other two nominations are still very much in the air. There is a strong push being made to shove aside the two obvious candidates, You Xikun 游錫堃 and Lin Jialong 林佳龍, in favor of the two top party leaders, Chair Cai Yingwen 蔡英文 and Secretary-General Su Jiaquan 蘇嘉全. Neither Cai nor Su really wants to run, but they are under immense pressure to accept the nominations. Cai threw Su under the bus first, calling on him to run in Taichung City a couple of weeks ago. Yesterday, Su returned the favor, saying his campaign would only have direction if Cai were also to run. (Funny, I thought they were supposed to be allies!) For the first time in a couple of months, I am getting the feeling that Cai and Su will have to yield to the pressure and accept the nominations.
Why don’t they want to run? There are a few common reasons. Both seem quite happy in their present offices. Both would be outsiders running a campaign without deep local connections and only six months to develop local credibility. Neither has prepared at all for this campaign. In Cai’s case, she wants to remain in national politics, with her eye on national issues such as relations with China, national security, the economy, and so forth. Becoming mayor of Xinbei City would give her electoral experience and some experience in local government, but it would also force her to spend time on local government problems, like picking up garbage, enforcing parking regulations, and maintaining parks. Cai has a chance to be the party presidential candidate in 2012, and I think her eye is firmly fixed on that opportunity. Local governance is a distraction to preparation for that race. Besides, she might lose this election. Polls show her even with Zhu Lilun 朱立倫, not with a big lead. For Su, the probability of losing is very high. His job would be to lose as well as possible, hardly an attractive mission for someone who is already established in national politics. Moreover, since no one wants to back a losing horse, Su probably wouldn’t be able to raise money easily.
Since they don’t want to run, why does everyone else want them to? In a word, the alternatives are lousy. In Taichung City, Lin Jialong has been running for more than five years, and is still nowhere in the polls. He already lost by a convincing margin to Jason Hu 胡志強 once, and there is very little reason to believe it would be any better this time. The other local candidates, such as Guo Junming 郭俊銘 and Qiu Taisan 邱太三, have even worse prospects. In Xinbei City, the situation is perhaps even more desperate. The DPP is mostly resigned to losing Taichung, but they think they should win Xinbei. At the beginning of the year, the KMT was saddled with a lousy incumbent, Zhou Xiwei 周錫瑋, and both Su Zhenchang and Cai Yingwen were leading him in the polls. Since then, Zhou has withdrawn from the race in favor of Zhu Lilun, Su opted to run in Taipei City, and Cai doesn’t want to run. What looked like a likely victory for the DPP has turned into a likely defeat. As in Taichung, the other potential nominees aren’t appealing. Former Premier You Xikun has emerged as the strongest of the bunch, but he still trails Zhu in the polls but a wide margin, as much as 20%. At this point, the most likely outcome of a You candidacy would be something like a 55-45 defeat: respectable, but a clear defeat nonetheless. If the DPP wants to win, they probably need Cai Yingwen.
One thing this illustrates to me is just what a tough game electoral politics is. If you look like a loser, you will be cast aside. Lin Jialong has been working hard for five years, but since he has little in the way of public support, the DPP won’t hesitate to push him aside if there is any better option. You Xikun has had six months to prove that he could win the Xinbei race. There hasn’t been much movement in the polls. Well, he had his shot, and now it’s time to look for someone else. The KMT was desperately trying to do the same thing in the Kaohsiung and Tainan races. The difference is that they never found any better options. Even Wang Jinping 王金平 didn’t look like he would win Kaohsiung, and Wang is such an effective Speaker that they party can hardly afford to sacrifice him for a few extra percentage points. The DPP has better options in Cai and Su. Cai is clearly more popular than You and is even with Zhu. Su is only even with Lin, but that makes him a far better vehicle for the DPP. Su hasn’t even started to develop a campaign yet; he can only go up. No voter is going to re-evaluate things with a Hu-Lin matchup. With a brand new face in the race, there is a chance that voters will take a fresh look, not only at the DPP side, but also at Jason Hu and his record.
I’m not sure that nominating Cai and Su helps the DPP in the long run, especially for the 2012 presidential race. However, it would clearly make them stronger in this year’s elections.