Cope, born out of Thabo Mbeki's political demise, will lay its ideological cards on the table next week when it formally launches itself as a political party.
But commentators -- and the breakaway party's draft policy blueprint --suggest voters should expect nothing revolutionary when it unveils its manifesto in Bloemfontein on Tuesday.
"It is difficult for them to be different from the ANC because they come from within the bosom of the ANC. So I'm not expecting any fireworks," political analyst Xolela Mangcu told Sapa.
He and others warned that the Congress of the People's biggest challenge was not distancing itself from Mbeki, but rapidly burying the notion that it represented the middle class the former president tried to foster through black economic empowerment.
Cope claims to have amassed 428,000 paid-up members since splintering from the ANC in late October but by-elections this week have provided only a first, tentative gauge of its ability to tap the ruling party's vast support among poor voters.
At R30 a year the new party's membership fees are more than double that of the ANC and some of its stated aims, like electoral reform and protecting the separation of powers, risk looking elitist to the underprivileged masses.
"If the party remains a middle class formation that will be the best news for the ANC. Cope's leaders realise that remaining such is the worst case scenario," said Centre for Policy Studies analyst Aubrey Matshiqi.
"They recognise the need to reach beyond."
Institute for Democracy in South Africa (Idasa) analyst Richard Calland said even securing every middle class vote in the country would merely put Cope on a par with the Democratic Alliance.
His advice to the new party would be to learn from Britain's New Labour of the mid-1990s and set itself a limited but achievable set of social reform objectives that resound with the electorate.
Mangcu said Cope's campaign was complicated by the fact that its advent had confirmed a swing to the left by the ANC, which would now cast itself as a champion of the working class ahead of the 2009 election.
"It was happening already but leftists in the ANC will be given much more strength in the arm.
"There is no way Cope is going to tap into the poor, disgruntled vote. Hope springs eternal, especially if you have very little. The ANC is the party they trust most even if has not delivered," he said.
Cope policy chief Smuts Ngonyama confirmed this week that the four-day inaugural conference of 4000 delegates, some of them foreign, which starts Saturday, would also kick off the party's election campaign.
"We will use our closing rally on Tuesday to launch our call for people to vote for us."
Like Cope convenor Mosiuoa Lekota, the former ANC head of communications wears his loyalty to Mbeki on his sleeve.
Arguing the case for electoral reform recently, he accused the ANC of creating "an unpalatable situation... (and) instability" by forcing the president to step down in September.
The fact that Cope was born out of a power struggle in the ruling party has created an unflattering impression that it cares less for policy than settling political scores, Mangcu said.
"It seems like a party whose reason for existence is fighting back on any political battles that were lost in Polokwane in 2007."
Instead, Cope has sought to portray itself as the party that will reclaim the political moral high ground it says the ANC has vacated.
Ngonyama this week vowed that it would pursue Nelson Mandela's vision of nation-building which the ruling party had "let slide".
"We want to be a clear new alternative in our country," he said.
But Cope could pay for its leadership's history in the ANC at the polls, analysts said.
"It is possible that people say: 'They were in government so they were part of the broken promises of the ANC'," Matshiqi said.
"The electorate has been energised by the emergence of Cope. The question is whether they have been energised to the benefit of Cope or to that of the ANC. Will they actually punish Cope?"
On Tuesday, the choice between the ANC and its defectors will be graphic for residents of the Free State, Lekota's political home ground, as the two parties hold competing rallies there.