Hold onto your hats, folks. Kevin O’Leary has announced today he is withdrawing from the Conservative leadership race, and endorsing Maxime Bernier.
This is a stunner, not only because this has happened way past the dropout deadline (which means O’Leary will still have his name on the ballot, even though he is out), but also because O’Leary was perceived by the media as one of the race’s frontrunners.
The key word, though, is “perceived”. The reality was probably a different story. I think the political pros and backroom people, and Tory party members for that matter, all knew full well what the media did not: that O’Leary had tons of problems as a candidate. He skipped out on debates, was no good at the French language, and a lot of Tories didn’t like his policies (which they thought were too liberal) and didn’t like his style (big mouth, reality TV resume, etc.). Sure, he had name recognition, and that is probably why his polling numbers were good early on. But lots of Tories didn’t like him for whatever reason; he had very little growth potential from the first ballot on, and no hope at all in Quebec. O’Leary basically acknowledged that today in pulling out.
As for Bernier, this is a huge boost to his campaign which is already rolling in dough and who is at or near the top of the polls. And while this race had been a bit of a jumble with upwards of 14 candidates running, it’s far less of one now. Maxime Bernier is going to emerge from today as the clear-cut, undisputed front runner in the race for Conservative leader. While it’s not in the bag for him yet, the question is increasingly going to be: can anyone stop him?