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Battleground in Brandon East?

Two years is a very long time in politics, which is how long it is until the next provincial election.

But 14 years is a lot longer, still. And it seems like voters in Westman are starting to feel that it’s plenty long indeed.

That’s how long it has been since Manitoba’s 1999 version of the “Orange Crush” sent Gary 1 (Filmon) down in defeat and installed Gary 2 (Doer) as premier.

But the days of Doer are over, and Premier Greg Selinger has proven a lot less able than his predecessor in steering the province.

Results of a new Probe Research poll, conducted for the Brandon Sun, show that Selinger’s policies are doing the provincial NDP absolutely no favours in Westman.

Already down to the solitary seat of Brandon East, currently held for Team Orange by Drew Caldwell, it looks like the next election will be no better — and could be considerably worse.

Results of the poll are extensively reported elsewhere in this paper, but taken together they paint a dismal portrait for the New Democrats.

Of course, crushing wins by the Progressive Conservatives in recent byelections were no surprise —those rural ridings have long been mainly blue — but the poll results in Brandon may cause a few people to do double-takes.

In Brandon West, which has been held by both the NDP and the PCs over the years, the Probe poll shows that a full majority of people would vote for the PCs in the next election.

But the real story is in Brandon East, which has been orange since its inception in 1969.

Even in Fortress Brandon East, the Probe poll suggests that the Tories would draw 47 per cent support — a stunning 16-point lead over the NDP, which took nearly 55 per cent of the vote in 2011.

The fact that NDP support has tumbled by more than 20 percentage points must be spooking current MLA Caldwell. But even more frightening is that it’s doubtful he will be able to shore up his support any longer by pointing to the bad old days of nurse-firings in the ’90s.

Voters aren’t just deciding to give the Tories a try, although a few of them obviously are. Far more interesting has to be the tide of red that seems to slowly be rising.

The provincial Liberals were an afterthought to a footnote in the last election in Brandon East (despite candidate Shaun Cameron’s best efforts). But in the Probe poll, they draw a respectable 22 per cent support — close enough to nip at Caldwell’s heels.

Some of that has to be due to the party’s reinvigoration under new leader Rana Bokhari. Despite former leader Dr. Jon Gerrard’s earnest policy proposals, he was a pol that only a wonk could really love, and he never really clicked with the general public.

The young, energetic Bokhari is drawing attention, but the party’s success in Brandon East (as well as in the recent Arthur-Virden provincial byelection) could also be attributed in part to the spectacular race during the Brandon-Souris federal byelection.

We’re sure that the poll results will kick off some interesting backroom discussions among all three parties. Caldwell, still playing a possible mayoral run close to his vest, has a difficult decision to make. Tories, who have long felt that Brandon East is not as safe as the NDP think it is, may smell blood. And the emergence of a strong Liberal candidate (the return of Cameron? Or perhaps Rolf Dinsdale?) could turn this riding into a seat that’s up for grabs.

Brandon East: From a fortress to a battleground? The next two years will tell.

Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition February 1, 2014

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Two years is a very long time in politics, which is how long it is until the next provincial election.

But 14 years is a lot longer, still. And it seems like voters in Westman are starting to feel that it’s plenty long indeed.

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Two years is a very long time in politics, which is how long it is until the next provincial election.

But 14 years is a lot longer, still. And it seems like voters in Westman are starting to feel that it’s plenty long indeed.

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