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Wildrose party leader Danielle Smith exits her campaign bus to make a policy announcement in Okotoks, Alta., Tuesday, March 27, 2012. Albertans go to the polls on April 23. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Wildrose party leader Danielle Smith exits her campaign bus to make a policy announcement in Okotoks, Alta., Tuesday, March 27, 2012. Albertans go to the polls on April 23. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Politics

Meet the voters key to a Wildrose victory … Add to ...

The Wildrose Party is working hard to soften its hard-line image and appeal to a broad base of Alberta voters.

Specifically, the party has set its sights on four hypothetical groups of voters, which they refer to as: “Hank” (the party stalwart), “Diane” (the could-be-convinced), “Martha and Henry” (the updated take on former premier Ralph Klein’s “ordinary Albertans”), and “Bennifer” (the young family).

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The right-wing upstart has been narrowly construed as the political destination for Bible thumpers, rednecks, libertarians and social and fiscal conservatives – but that’s not how Leader Danielle Smith wants the party to be viewed heading toward an April 23 election.

“When I look at Alberta, I think what we’re reflecting is the same kind of Alberta that people remember their parents and their grandparents talking about,” Ms. Smith told reporters during a recent campaign stop in Edmonton.

That was a place, she continued, where free enterprise flourished, individual know-how was applauded and local decision-making as well as unshackled MLAs were the norm.

“I don’t think that’s a particular demographic,” Ms. Smith said. “I think there are individuals of all demographics who want to see those values returned to the way our province is governed, and we’re not getting that under the current government.”

A flurry of polls show that the momentum is currently with Wildrose, while the governing Progressive Conservatives are losing ground – fast.

“For sure they are in trouble,” said Calgary-based pollster Bruce Cameron of Return on Insight. “A lot of it is self-made.”

The hemorrhaging began in Tory support with the scandal involving MLAs getting paid to sit on a committee that didn’t meet, Mr. Cameron said.

<p> Numerous surveys have shown that while the Tories do well among women and those under 30, Wildrose appeals to men and those who are 30 and older. Mr. Cameron pointed out that winning young voters doesn’t always translate to votes on election day. “The older you are, the more likely you are to vote,” he said. </p> <p> It’s also not clear what the male vs. female vote split could mean, adding, “I’ve never seen such a dramatic gender gap.” </p> <p> Pundits have pointed out that Wildrose needs to sell itself as a big tent in order to dethrone the long-governing Tories. And if a whistle stop at a diner in Redwater, north of Edmonton, is any indication, Wildrose’s four-pronged approach at targeting voters is on the money. </p> <p> Here, lingering over coffee, was a “Henry”: Harry Zolmer, 77, a retired farmer and trucker who said he was concerned about funding for seniors. After what he considers years of Tory fiscal mismanagement, he has turned his back on the party. “I have great confidence in her,” Mr. Zolmer said, “She’s a good speaker.… She’s got the personality.” </p> <p> Also spotted: “Hank” and “Diane” – Sherry and Phillip Menard, who operate a small business from the nearby village of Braun. They are also backing Ms. Smith. </p> <p> “I think she’d represent this province with such style,” said Ms. Menard, 55, who has never been politically active. “Style we haven’t had.” </p> <p> Mr. Menard, 71, agreed Wildrose does appeal to “rednecks,” which in his mind simply means those who believe in small government and self-reliance. </p> <p> “They call us rednecks,” Mr. Menard said. “We’re very proud of that. I don’t know if her party platform will appeal to [city people]… but if it doesn’t, it should.” </p> <p> <b>The proposed key voters</b> </p> <p> <b>Hank</b> </p> <p> Age: 55 </p> <p> Owns small business </p> <p> Sick of Tories </p> <p> In our camp </p> <p> Can’t take for granted </p> <p> <b>Diane</b> </p> <p> Hank’s wife </p> <p> Age: 53 </p> <p> Thinking Wildrose </p> <p> Cautious about radical change </p> <p> <b>Martha &amp; Henry</b> </p> <p> Long-time PC voters </p> <p> Retired, on fixed income </p> <p> Worried about pensions and medicare </p> <p> <b>Bennifer</b> </p> <p> Age: 40-ish </p> <p> Married </p> <p> Brad: electrician </p> <p> Jenn: office job </p> <p> Worried about cost of living, children and future </p>

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