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Tories not panicking

Despite miscues, sources insist party is sticking to plans

Despite widespread media speculation the Tory re-election campaign is in trouble following missteps, such as the infamous so-called Peegate, insiders say Stephen Harper is not going to change much.


Despite widespread media speculation the Tory re-election campaign is in trouble following missteps, such as the infamous so-called Peegate, insiders say Stephen Harper is not going to change much.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/9/2015 (1622 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

OTTAWA — Suggestions the Conservative campaign is under siege and looking for a life raft are overblown, party insiders suggest.

A source close to the Conservative campaign said the media narrative that Stephen Harper's train has come off the rails and is looking for a do over is "wishful thinking."

"Have they had a few rough days? Absolutely," he said, "But there is still a whole campaign to come. The PM knows what he's doing."

After a difficult first half of the campaign, this week it appeared the Conservatives were regrouping. Harper's narrative on refugees morphed toward more support for refugees, campaign manager Jenni Byrne flew back to Ottawa and Australian consultant Lynton Crosby, who has helped right-wingers win in several international campaigns, arrived on the scene.

But the call to Crosby didn't just go out in recent days as a sort of Hail Mary. In fact, Crosby has been advising the Tory campaign since March.

And while Byrne was responsible for the vetting process that should have uncovered the urinary incident before it became Peegate, her return to Ottawa was not really because Harper was angry with her, said the insider. It was more a function of necessity.

"She is still the campaign manager, and I do not expect that to change," he said.

He said nobody in the Conservative camp went into this election thinking it would be the same as 2008 or 2011. After a decade of governing and four years of a majority to defend, everyone knew it would be tougher.

He said Harper is being told to play up the energy that he shows in his evening stops during the day, to cut back on the defensiveness. And the campaign is looking at where they can tweak things to adapt to changing circumstances.

But the overall plan isn't changing.

"The PM is a big believer in making a plan and staying with that plan," he said.

That things are different than they were four years ago is clear at the local level in Winnipeg, Conservative sources say. But that isn't a reflection of things that have gone on since Aug. 2, they say. It started before that.

"At the doors, it's tough," said one campaign staffer. "It's a different kind of campaign."

She said there is a level of animosity to Harper on the doorstep that did not exist in 2011 and that seems to be driving the voters' choices more than anything else.

"There's a lot more 'I'm not voting for Harper,' in this election," she said. "It's undeniable there is a lot of anti-Conservative sentiment out there."

The Conservatives hold six of the eight seats in Winnipeg. Five of them are in play and the Conservatives are playing heavy defence against offensive efforts of the NDP and the Liberals.

There are some local staff and volunteers who were a little on edge from the national polling numbers, although Friday had two polls showing the Conservatives have bounced back and it's again a three-way tie.

But Conservatives who are working on campaigns in the three south Winnipeg ridings say so far, the trouble on the national campaign hasn't changed much of what the local campaigns are feeling they aren't hearing about those events on the doorstep.

"I think most people here, it's not their first rodeo so they know it's really the last few weeks that matter," said one Conservative campaign worker in Winnipeg.

It's not to say there hasn't been a lot of eye-rolling, sighing or head shaking at some of what has happened, such as Peegate for instance.

"I sometimes wonder if Harper is sitting there at night talking to Laureen and asking: "Are we running a daycare here or an election?" one source joked.

The adviser said things might start to get bad if poll numbers sink to 15 per cent. The Conservatives know they have more money, a better ground organization to get the vote out on election day and an advertising buy beginning this weekend that will help. "No one should be panicking at this point," he said.

Locally, the other parties are feeling good in the places they are targeting. After a disastrous showing in Manitoba in 2008 and 2011, the Liberals are showing signs of life again in south Winnipeg. Insiders from the Liberal camp feel fairly confident about the effort by Dan Vandal in Saint Boniface-Saint Vital, happy with how the campaign is going for Jim Carr in Winnipeg South Centre and mildly happy with Terry Duguid's chances in Winnipeg South.

"Volunteers are pouring out," said one source who is helping out. "There is money. The response on the doorstep is pretty good. People are working very hard."

The source said in Winnipeg South Centre last week, a poll crew went out and got 10 houses to take a Carr sign in one evening, which is a pretty good showing.

"The mood in the office was pretty good that night," the source said.

The NDP was boosted by the addition of former provincial health minister Erin Selby to the candidate roster last week, and the ground game is buoyed by the idea the NDP has a chance to form government.

But local party officials know they are battling fatigue with the provincial NDP among the electorate, which is hurting. Still the NDP is happy with how things look in Elmwood-Transcona, the one riding the party wants to regain.

Pat Martin, running in his seventh election in Winnipeg Centre for the NDP, has acknowledged he is in a tougher battle than he's faced in recent years but still his campaign office is humming. He said there were more volunteers in his office before Labour Day than he had during the 2011 election.



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Updated on Saturday, September 12, 2015 at 7:33 AM CDT: Adds photo

September 13, 2015 at 9:03 PM: Corrects number of seats held by Conservatives in Winnipeg ridings.

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