From Josh Wingrove:
Heading into tonight, it's tough to tell who has what momentum. We've written about how polls are showing starkly different numbers. Another today showed Wildrose ahead in Calgary and rural Alberta, with the PCs ahead in Edmonton. Overall, it was 42.8 - 34.4. If that held, it would be a Wildrose majority (minimum 44 of the province's 87 seats).
However, some polls show it's much tighter. One showed the PCs and Wildrose in a tie overall and rurally, which would make the whole thing even more difficult to predict. It seems clear the main battleground is Calgary, where it remains anyone's game. Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said yesterday that whomever wins the fight for his city will form government.
So, what does this all mean heading into tonight? It means there's a ton on the line.
Wildrose started the campaign very strong, but has seen its numbers slide back down a bit. The PCs collapsed but have stopped the bleeding and are, according to some polls, rebounding. Both Wildrose leader Danielle Smith and PC leader Alison Redford need big performances tonight.
For Ms. Smith, it would all but guarantee victory. For Ms. Redford, I think the stakes are higher. She needs a win here, not a draw. Staff say she's been looking forward to tonight, and she won her party's leadership last fall largely on the strength of her debate performance. But Ms. Smith is no slouch.
So, what are we going to hear? The NDP and Liberal leaders will in many ways set the tone, because they'll determine who gets piled up on. If it's three parties against Wildrose (the frontfunner), it helps the PCs; if it's three parties against the incumbent PCs, it helps Wildrose.
Beyond that, we'll see Ms. Smith do what she does best - attack the Tory record, which is a huge dead weight around the neck of the party's candidates. A stumbling healthcare system, a committee that paid members $1,000 per month but hasn't met since 2008, raises the then-cabinet voted themselves - every time Wildrose runs out of ammo, the PCs seem to be only too happy to reload their weapons for them.
Ms. Redford, in turn, is expected to have a two-pronged approach. One will be laying out her platform, including pledges to develop 140 Family Care Clinics (mocked by the province's doctors as redundant, but popular among poll respondents), continue an infrastructure spending spree and invest in research in a program called AOSTRA. On the other hand, she may continue her party's attack strategy on Wildrose - they've been trying to cast them as a party of old white men with a social agenda. Ms. Redford has let her staff launch the attacks, but may do so herself tonight.
So, this is all what's at stake. Meanwhile, the NDP and Liberals are vying for third-party status at this point, if you believe the polls. So, they're going to be jockeying to emerge as the clear, go-to option for people who don't want to vote either PC or Wildrose.
In all of this, the Alberta Party has been excluded because they didn't have an MLA elected under their banner (their only one was a Liberal, and crossed the floor). Leader Glenn Taylor will be live-blogging along with his counterparts here, if you're so inclined. The Alberta Party's best-case scenario is to pick up a few seats - Mr. Taylor's, and a couple in Edmonton - but they remain longshots.