But no race was as compelling as Calgary's. The prospect of Mr. Nenshi as mayor signalled a shift in the province, observers said. "Calgary is often misperceived. It's no longer a ranching and oil community only. It's young, it's vibrant, it's cosmopolitan and global," said David Taras, a veteran political observer in the city and the Ralph Klein Chair in Media Studies at Mount Royal University.
"It's almost a movement, which is incredible."
Lisa Young, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, said the race was supposed to be between Ms. Higgins and Mr. McIver, but Mr. Nenshi's "dogged" work drove his support.
"He has stolen this campaign. He's gone from being an interesting also-ran to the guy setting the agenda in this campaign,'" Prof. Young said.
"It's just had this exceptional momentum to it. It's gone from being the campaign that people who are maybe to the centre-left, and are a bit more of the urbanist types are supporting, to having mainstream appeal. He was endorsed by the Calgary Sun of all things, which is exceptional."
Watching the returns of Mr. McIver closely were Mr. Harper's Conservatives. The party's veteran campaign duo of Sam Armstrong and Devin Iversen led Mr. McIver's push. Along with Rob Anders, they're credited as being experts in "deep mining" polling - identifying a conservative base, finding wedge issues, and driving those people to the polls. That approach was simply washed away by the broad coalition mobilized by Mr. Nenshi, who nevertheless congratulated his two rivals.
"We have to thank [Ms. Higgins]for everything she's done for this city," he said, adding later Mr. McIver "has been an outstanding leader for this city and I hope that he will continue to be an outstanding leader for this city."
Mr. Nenshi was joined by his family - a sister, her husband, two children and his parents - with whom he is very close. He is a success story for new Canadians. Mr. Nenshi's parents emigrated to Canada from Tanzania when his mother, Nury Nenshi, was pregnant with Naheed. They settled in Toronto before moving to Calgary, where Naheed grew up. He attended Harvard University, and at the tender age of 22 was hired by McKinsey and Company, one of the world's top consulting firms. After about eight years at the company, he returned to Calgary to be with his ailing father. He has since worked for the United Nations, started his own business, and became a professor at Mount Royal University. He was a frequent commentator and columnist with a keen eye on civic affairs; this spring, he decided to throw his hat in.
"You know, the Purple Army was never about winning an election - it's a good thing. It was about revitalizing the level of conversation in the city. It was about talking to the person next to you on the bus, it was about taking an extra minute with the cashier at Safeway, and now it is about doing the work to build a better Calgary that we all dream of," Mr. Nenshi told his supporters Monday night.
Several pundits quietly predicted a Nenshi win early Monday, though many stuck to traditional views that Mr. McIver would win. Nevertheless, Prof. Taras praised Mr. Nenshi's campaign.
"His ability to connect and win volunteers, I mean, his ranking on the charisma index is probably 10 out of 10. He's very articulate, he showed a deep knowledge of policy, and he had a vision for the city," Prof. Taras said.
"I think this is a city of change, but it's a cosmopolitan city. It's a younger, more cosmopolitan, more progressive face than people are used to thinking about Calgary. When people think about Calgary they don't tend to think of it as a cosmopolitan city."
In Edmonton, with only a handful of polls left to report, unofficial results gave Mr. Mandel 55 per cent of the vote. His closest challenger, businessman David Dorward, had roughly 30 per cent.
Mr. Mandel campaigned on a reputation as a big-picture visionary who has backed the arts and expanded the city's LRT system. He promised to redevelop the Edmonton City Centre Airport into a new, mixed-used neighbourhood.
The airport's future became the biggest issue in the election, with Mr. Dorward backed by a lobby group that wanted the airport kept open.
"We have to look at how to build a city that's representative of all our multicultural communities, and that offers opportunities for young people," Mr. Mandel said on his priorities for the next term. "Really, it's to continue to build the city and a long range vision of what we can do."
With a report from Adrian Morrow