It must have been as if Christmas came early.
The liberal press was nearly orgasmic at the thought of witnessing their political messiah Justin Trudeau demonstrate his magnificence by casting out the conservative demons in Parliamentary byelections.
Three times he had gone into the Temple of the Beast (well, Manitoba), preaching about scandal in Ottawa, and promising to cleanse the rot in a puff of (pot) smoke.
Giddy with anticipation, they came to anoint their saviour---he who would restore Liberals to their rightful place as the natural governing party once he demonstrated his miraculous powers to the voting public.
They gathered to witness the rebirth of the Party--- these self-proclaimed shepherds of the ignorant masses, angels in their own minds, and a lot of asses.
After all, hadn't the oracles predicted an easy and crushing victory? 'Liberals 29 points ahead in Brandon-Souris' declared the Forum Research sages.
And it didn't hurt that some of the liberal press gave the electorate a nudge in the right direction, did it?
CBC carried a story in which one Brandon voter condemned Prime Minister Stephen Harper for circulating a letter asking for support for the Conservative candidate in the byelection.
They just forgot to mention that the person they interviewed was the web master for the Green Party.
And the Winnipeg Free Press carried a story casting doubt on the accuracy of the Forum Research poll, right under the headline "Liberal candidate holds 29-point lead in Brandon-Souris byelection: poll".
Then came the night of the casting out of devils ( "Brandon-Souris turning red today?" asked the Winnipeg Free Press) and...uh oh.
Trudeau, uh, FAILED.
Wha' happened? Trudeau had been all but guaranteed to win at least three--if not, by some miracle, all four---of the seats at stake, Liberal-held seats in Ontario and Quebec and two Conservative-held seats in Manitoba. Brandon-Souris was his, surely. Everyone said so.
The liberal press was aghast. Their very own baby Jesus had come up empty-handed.
They quickly changed the narrative.
Trudeau, you see, didn't lose. He won. Oh, sure he lost the Manitoba seats, but the Liberal vote was up, so therefore he won. And Harper? He lost.
The counter-offensive started almost immediately.
Maclean's magazine's political pundit Paul Wells dashed off these pearls of wisdom in his blog, obviously even before the final results were in:
"Brandon-Souris? A 21-point decline in Conservative vote and a 38-point gain for the Liberals, who ran an anonymous parachute candidate of very uncertain quality against a Conservative campaign personally spearheaded by Jenni Byrne, the Conservatives’ 2011 national campaign manager."
Uh, Paul, the Conservatives won Brandon-Souris. How is winning going to hurt Harper?
But, but, but...what about that "Liberal surge"?
Note that the liberal press trumpets the percentages and ignores the actual vote totals.
In Brandon-Souris, Conservative Larry Maguire got 12,205 votes.
That translates into 44 percent of the total vote.
In 2011, winner Merv Tweed, collected 63.7 percent of the vote. The liberal press is highlighting the fact that the percentage of the popular vote for the Conservative Party dropped 19.6 percentage points (Wells probably didn't wait for all the polls to be in before writing).
Liberal candidate Rolf Dinsdale received 11,814 votes, 42.6 percent of the total vote, an increase of 37 points over the Liberal's showing in 2011.
The NDP candidate got a measley 2037 votes, 7.3 percent of the total, and a drop of 17.8 points from the NDP's showing in 2011.
But the real story is in the numbers that the press is not reporting.
The Liberals, on the other hand, are maxed out. Their 2013 vote total is already more than the combined Opposition votes in 2011. Everybody who wants to defeat the Conservatives has already voted.
Have you see that analysis anywhere else?
Understand, Wells, like most of the Parliamentary Press Gallery, is one of those pundits on Parliament Hill who profess to know more about politics than do you, the little people. That's why he wrote this learned observation:
"The NDP gained vote share in Toronto Centre and lost elsewhere, especially in Provencher and Brandon-Souris, where the memory of that noted prairie populist Jack Layton fades. "
Sadly, if Paul Wells had a clue about Manitoba, he would have known that "prairie populist Jack Layton" had zero impact on the 2011 election in Manitoba.
The NDP lost one seat (Elmwood) and failed to recapture the NDP stronghold of Winnipeg-North which was lost to the Liberals in a byelection after incumbent Judy Wasylecia-Leis retired.
The press herd, including the Winnipeg contingent, has settled on the narrative of the byelections -- Justin Trudeau won though he lost and Stephen Harper lost though he won.
And by doing so they've missed the biggest political story in the province---the stark panic in the NDP government.
Support for the NDP in Manitoba in the federal byelections was in single digits (7 percent Brandon-Souris, 8 percent Provencher). It's a rule-of-thumb in Manitoba that voters who go NDP provincially vote Liberal federally in all but the bedrock ridings. But single digits? That's complete collapse.
You can bet the NDP's Drew Caldwell in Brandon East is in full panic. Stan Struthers in Dauphin, Peter Bjornson in Gimli, Greg Dewar in Selkirk, Thomas Nevakshonoff in the Interlake are sweating over whether the meltdown of the NDP vote in rural Manitoba will extend to their ridings.
Even Winnipeg ridings are not safe given the evaporation of NDP support shown by the byelections. The most recent election polls have shown the NDP behind the Conservatives in popularity, even in Winnipeg. But a single-digit showing in federal byelections could mean disaster for the New Democrats if its a true reflection of public opinion towards a government that openly breaks the law to raise taxes, hosts an admittedly racist cabinet minister, and is racing towards bankrupting the province by its rampant and unrestricted spending.
Not that any of the local political reporters thinks that's worthy of following up.