Depending on what side of the political spectrum you fell on Danny Williams was either a strong and forceful leader or a power mad dictator. The truth, as in most things, probably lies somewhere in-between.
However, there is one thing for sure, there is a pretty massive power vacuum in his absence. Because Williams tolerated little in the dissent in his caucus, and those who did quickly found themselves in exile (see Fabian Manning and Elizabeth Marshall). So there isn't the usual cadre of strong and hungry cabinet ministers waiting in the wings. And thanks to his successful ABC campaign in the last federal election there are no federal MPs to swoop back and take over, like Brian Tobin did back in '96.
If you had asked me before Williams resigned I would have thought Health Minister Jerome Kennedy would be a lock. However, if you really want to screw up a person's political future, making them Health Minister isn't a bad way to start (see Ross Wiseman). I don't have my finger on the pulse of Newfoundland politics like I once used to, but it's my understanding he's not the most popular person in the world right now, and the situation with the doctors is not helping any.
Also, and I believe Dave Cochrane of CBC got this quote from him, where he's not sure if wants to be that guy who follows the guy. So at least he's got the common sense to know that he has nearly impossible shoes to fill, at least as far as the general public of Newfoundland is concerned.
Soon to be Acting Premier Kathy Dunderdale has been mentioned, but she's never really stuck me as a particular heavyweight. Finance Minister Tom Marshall's name has been tossed around, but he doesn't seem particularly enthused about the job or the prospects of filling Danny's shoes.
Manning or Elizabeth Marshall could always come back from the Senate, I suppose, but that's giving up a pretty cushy job to dive back into the bloodbath of Newfoundland and Labrador politics. Pity, I always thought Elizabeth would have made a particularly intelligent premier.
I suspect a dynamic something like this is shaping up something like this - the ones actually smart enough to do the job realize that following Danny Williams into the premier's chair is almost a no-win situation so they're thinking long and hard about it. Sure you get to be premier, but you're never going to match up to the Big Man, and people are always going to remind you of that.
Those not smart enough to curb their ambitions are biding their time to see if they might be able sneak in there some how.
To be blunt, it is a spectacularly uninspiring caucus, filled with political opportunists who are Tories in the same way that many of Brian Tobin's caucus were Liberals. They have no real strong political or ideological beliefs beyond getting elected. They follow whatever cult of personality who happens to be the strongest at the time. Political colours don't really matter that much.
Someone will win, of course. If I had to be money it will probably be Kennedy, especially if Williams subtly lets it be known that he is his preferred successor. That'll seal the deal. And whoever it is will win the election next year, unless they run a campaign so spectacularly bad that goes down in the books.
2015 is the real fight. That's when we'll see which party has managed to land their next cult leader to guide the province. History says the Liberals are due. We'll see.
1. Requiem for a dying song - Flogging Molly*
2. I'm so lonesome I could cry - Me First and the Gimmie Gimmies
3. Dead in the water - David Gray
4. Tokyo bicycle - Hawksley Workman
5. The electric co. - U2