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This article was published 20/10/2014 (1342 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Given the sorry state of the Winnipeg Jets and Blue Bombers this fall, people in this city may not know how hard it is to hold on to a lead.
Take Judy Wasylycia-Leis, for instance. For nearly 10 months, the former NDP MP and MLA was running away with Winnipeg's mayoral race.
She polled at 45 per cent in December 2013 and held a 20-point lead over her closest competitor, former councillor Gord Steeves. She dipped to 42 per cent in February 2014 but widened her spread over Steeves to 25 points. She was pegged at 39 per cent and 34 per cent in a pair of polls in August, holding leads of 16 and 14 points over Steeves and lawyer Brian Bowman, respectively.
By the end of September, she was back up to 41 per cent and held an 18-point lead over Bowman, who had clearly established himself as her prime opponent in place of Steeves. It looked like she was about breeze into city hall without even stopping for a soy latte.
Now, on the eve of the municipal election, Wasylycia-Leis finds herself behind in a poll for the first time since Oct. 27, 2010, when she lost her first bid for mayor.
An Insightrix poll commissioned by CJOB and Global News suggests Wasylycia-Leis trails Bowman by two points at this very late stage in the mayoral race, 38 per cent to 36 per cent.
Given the poll's 3.5-point margin of error, the two candidates are in a statistical tie. But this remains a remarkable turn of events and an uncomfortable position for Wasylycia-Leis, who's been running a classically careful front-runner's campaign from the beginning, making only modest promises and avoiding anything that resembles risk.
Like a hockey team or football squad that tries to protect a lead for too long, Wasylycia-Leis now finds herself trying to fight off someone else's momentum, with little room to manoeuvre besides casting doubts about Bowman's experience.
The lawyer started this race with nothing more than six per cent support and a shiny set of teeth. He's now in striking distance of winning, although he would have had an even better chance if the Insightrix poll was never commissioned.
Why? A bad-news poll for Wasylycia-Leis only serves to motivate her garrison of ground troops, who may have grown complacent during the 10 months she held a comfortable lead.
Elections are not won by polls. They're won by volunteers who identify friendly voters early and get them out to polling booths on election day. Instead of launching a sneak attack, Bowman's almost equally voluminous volunteer army is now in a daylight battle on wide-open ground, where both forces can clearly see each other.
As predicted by every election-watcher in Winnipeg, as soon as either Bowman or Steeves rose up higher than the other on the second-place teeter-totter, the anyone-but-Judy vote would coalesce around the candidate sitting higher in the air.
This poll can benefit Bowman further by convincing a few more Steeves stragglers to abandon ship. But it may benefit Wasylycia-Leis even more, as left-of-centre voters who've migrated over to Robert-Falcon Ouellette — now in third place — may drift back to Judy W-L if they're concerned about a Bowman victory.
Steeves, meanwhile, dismissed the Insightrix poll, stating something candidates falling behind always state: The numbers don't reflect what they're seeing on the doorstep. He also questioned the independence of the poll.
One of his operatives, David Shorr, went even further, suggesting Insightrix can't be trusted because its president, Corrin Harper, organized a market-research conference in Saskatoon with Tracy Bowman, Brian Bowman's spouse.
To put it bluntly, this is conspiracy-theory nonsense. No respectable polling firm would risk its reputation by manipulating numbers. This speaks more to the desperation of the Steeves campaign, which took a likable candidate at 25 per cent and drove him down into single-digit territory.
What happens next in Winnipeg's mayoral race is all about the ground game, as Bowman and Wasylycia-Leis's volunteers prepare to use every means necessary to get their supporters to the polls.
But that alone won't dictate a mayoral race, as no volunteer army can cover a city. The question may be settled by undecided voters — an amazing 29 per cent, according to Insightrix — who face a choice between two candidates with severely flawed financial plans.
In the absence of inspired policy, at least we have an interesting horse race.
Updated on Tuesday, October 21, 2014 at 6:26 AM CDT: replaces photo