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Alberta Tory popularity sure to dip when a leader is chosen

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Alberta Tory leadership candidate Ted Morton, now the front-runner

With the Alberta Progressive Conservatives riding high in the opinion of the public right now, it is axiomatic that the party's popularity with voters will slump the instant it chooses a new leader.

The important question no one knows the answer to, of course, is, by how much?

The Conservatives are enjoying a bump right now because Premier Ed Stelmach was unpopular with a lot of Albertans from all parts of the Tory voting spectrum. The party began to soar back to its traditional high esteem with the province's voters as soon as Stelmach announced his intention to step down.

Now that we are in the final 10 days before the first PC leadership vote, the party is probably at or near its high point for support because there are real and substantive differences among the six candidates seeking Stelmach's job.

So if the party moves further to the right by electing any of Ted Morton, Rick Orman or Doug Griffiths, centrist voters who nevertheless might vote Conservative will be tempted to abandon the Tories for one of the parties of the centre or the left.

On the other hand, if the party moves back toward the centre, as it will be perceived to be doing if Conservatives choose any of Gary Mar, Doug Horner, Alison Redford, the vocal Conservative right fringe may move back to the Wildrose Alliance.

Either way, the Conservatives are virtually sure to lose some of their current support whichever way they turn because you just can't please all of the people all of the time.

Who would benefit politically from such shifts? If the Conservatives lurch to the right, it could mean a bump for the Liberals, who are expected to select the popular but mercurial Dr. Raj Sherman as their leader on Saturday.

But by the time an election rolls around, it is said here that trend would more likely benefit the Alberta New Democrats, who are united and experienced, and may still be on the crest of a bit of an Orange Wavelet. The Liberals under Sherman are not likely to be united for long, and Alberta Liberals will never benefit from a phenomenon like the Orange Wave federal NDP leader Jack Layton generated before his death. Over time, the Liberal-like Alberta Party might benefit too, but they are barely on the radar at the moment.

If the party moves toward the centre, the chief beneficiary will naturally be the far-right Wildrose under former Fraser Institute apparatchik Danielle Smith.

So true party loyalists among the NDP and the Wildrose alike can probably be forgiven for crossing their fingers hoping for the result likely to benefit their party most.

The question, of course, is will such movement by voters be significant enough to prevent an overwhelming victory by the Conservatives under any leader in the election they are likely to call as quickly as they can?

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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