A new poll shows Rick Chrest is the front-runner in Brandon’s 2014 mayoral race, but Mayor Shari Decter Hirst isn’t far behind.
The Probe Research survey conducted exclusively for the Brandon Sun had seven potential mayoral candidates placed on a hypothetical ballot.
Results show Chrest, a local business owner and former University ward councillor, has the support of 29 per cent of voters. Decter Hirst is close behind with 24 per cent.
Brandon East NDP MLA Drew Caldwell is in third place at 15 per cent.
"Rick Chrest has been out of elected politics for a little while now, but certainly he has a lot of municipal experience … and I think he still has a fairly high profile in the community," said Curtis Brown, senior research associate with Probe Research.
"So to me, it wasn’t a big surprise that he certainly does have that degree of strength."
Other names on the hypothetical ballot are Coun. Stephen Montague (Richmond) and Kerry Auriat, who have both announced they will not run for mayor, Coun. Len Isleifson (Riverview) and Brandon School Division trustee Jim Murray.
According to the survey, Montague came in fourth with 12 per cent support, followed by Isleifson with eight per cent, Auriat with seven per cent and Murray with four per cent.
Nineteen per cent of all Brandon residents surveyed were undecided or refused to say which candidate they would support.
Chrest announced his intention to run for mayor on Jan. 24, which was right at the tail end of the Probe Research field work.
Brown says they looked at the data to see if Chrest’s announcement had an effect on the results, which they found it did not.
"We were in the field until Saturday. We had done most of the interviews before he made his announcement," Brown said.
"It was consistent. If there was a difference, it would have been by a percentage point … which is insignificant from our point of view."
In 2010, when Decter Hirst was elected mayor, she captured 55 per cent of the vote, compared to 42 per cent for incumbent Dave Burgess.
According to Probe, many of Decter Hirst’s previous supporters have "drifted away."
"I think what this shows is Shari Decter Hirst … obviously doesn’t have the support that she had in the last election," Brown said.
"I don’t think that’s a surprise given some of the challenges that she’s sort of faced over the course of her term, but she still does have a pretty sizable constituency of support."
Decter Hirst has retained the support of one-third (34 per cent) of those who voted for her four years ago.
Thirty per cent of Decter Hirst’s 2010 supporters now indicate they would vote for Chrest, while 15 per cent say they would cast a ballot for Caldwell.
While there has been speculation in the community about Caldwell running for mayor, he has not made an announcement.
Chrest seems to have garnered significant support from former Burgess backers (39 per cent). Twenty per cent of former Burgess supporters say they would vote for Montague, while 11 per cent say they would support Isleifson. Just seven percent of those who voted for Burgess in 2010 would now consider casting a ballot for Decter Hirst.
Decter Hirst has not yet announced if she is planning to put her name forward for re-election.
The Omnibus survey was conducted via telephone interviews Jan. 20-25 among a random and representative sampling of 404 adults living in Brandon. With a sample of 404, according to Probe, one can say with 95 per cent certainty that the results are within plus or minus 4.7 percentage points of what they would have been if the entire population of Brandon adults had been interviewed.
The municipal election takes place Oct. 22.
» Watch for a more results from this poll and a second Brandon Sun/Probe Research poll on provincial political party preferences in tomorrow’s Brandon Sun.