For George Smitherman, the opinion polls released earlier this week were an indictment of his weirdly uninspired campaign to be Toronto's next mayor.
They might also have constituted the lucky break he needed to turn that campaign around.
The former deputy premier is at his best when he gets to be a brawler. But in the first half of what's effectively a year-long race, he lacked anyone to brawl with.
First David Miller announced he wouldn't seek re-election, spoiling Smitherman's plans to capitalize on anger against the incumbent, and taking away his easiest path to victory. Then John Tory surprised his own supporters by opting not to throw his hat in, depriving Smitherman the opportunity to reprise old Queen's Park battles against a formidable right-of-centre opponent.
For a time it looked like Rocco Rossi would at least make a decent foil. But despite an early flurry of media coverage, the former Liberal Party of Canada president has yet to get much traction.
So Smitherman became a visibly uncomfortable frontrunner. Rather than exploiting the weaknesses of others, he had to worry solely about his own. That might explain his tentative, low-risk attempts at presenting a policy agenda, which mostly seem intended not to jeopardize his perceived status as a consensus choice. In the absence of being able to argue why Miller (or Tory, or even Adam Giambrone) shouldn't be mayor, he seemed unable to convincingly argue why he should be.
Now, Smitherman might be getting a reprieve. Courtesy of the polls, he has someone to frame himself against - and that someone, helpfully, is Rob Ford.
The veteran city councillor, despite his rather checkered past, shouldn't be underestimated - as he obviously was at the start of the race. He's left the buffoonery to Giorgio Mammoliti and cast himself as a reasonable guy who's fed up with the spendthrift way the city is run. In short, he's been better at playing the populist card than anyone expected.
The ideal for Ford, though, would have been to lurk in second for most of the campaign. That might have spared the veteran councillor close scrutiny of who he is and what he wants to do with the city (which has now started). And it would have left most of that focus on Smitherman, keeping him on the defensive rather than in his comfort zone.
Now, at least for the time-being, Smitherman has his foil. That he may need to rely on someone else's shortcomings rather than his own strengths doesn't say a whole lot for the way he's run his campaign. But you'd have to figure that in a lengthy two-man race with Ford, Smitherman's chances are pretty good.
Of course, all this presupposes that it stays a race between those two. There are a bunch of wild cards in this, and the biggest one is probably introducing weather and traffic even as we speak.
There are rather a lot of provincial Conservatives convinced that John Tory will be back in the race by Labour Day. Some will go so far as to speculate that's been his plan all along. Whatever his thinking was up to this point, the fact that nobody has taken control of the campaign - and that polls suggest he could be the one to do so - could convince Tory that this is his chance to vanquish his electoral demons.
If so, all bets are off. And given how he's botched his campaign to date, Smitherman's anything but a sure thing regardless. But the weeks ahead offer him the best possible chance to at least stop the bleeding.