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NDP leadership candidate Thomas Mulcair, right, makes a point as fellow candidate Nathan Cullen looks on during an NDP leadership debate in Montreal on March 4, 2012. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press/Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)
NDP leadership candidate Thomas Mulcair, right, makes a point as fellow candidate Nathan Cullen looks on during an NDP leadership debate in Montreal on March 4, 2012. (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press/Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press)

Mulcair shores up front-runner status as Cullen surges in NDP race Add to ...

Thomas Mulcair is reinforcing his position as front-runner in the race to lead the federal New Democrats but there is some recent good news for British Columbia MP Nathan Cullen that suggests he could be pushing his way toward the top of the pack.

Former leadership candidate Romeo Saganash threw his support this week behind Mr. Mulcair, the Quebec MP who has been ahead in a number of internal polls.

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Mr. Saganash, who also represents a Quebec riding for the New Democrats, said in a news release that, “of all my great colleagues who have offered to be our next leader, I believe that Tom is best able to lead all Canadians into that better future together.”

Nova Scotia MP Robert Chisholm, the first candidate to withdraw from what is now a seven-person contest, is also supporting Mr. Mulcair.

But Mr. Cullen, who has been alone in trumpeting a proposal to co-operate with the Liberals and the Greens in the next election, appears to be gaining some momentum in the final weeks of the campaign.

He says he would offer to hold joint nomination meetings with the other two parties and the winner alone, regardless of their stripe, would run in the election. It is a plan that has been roundly attacked by the other leadership contenders.

But a new poll by Forum Research Inc. suggests that a majority of Canadians who support parties on the centre and the left of the political spectrum believe the idea has merit. Six out of 10 respondents who identified themselves as supporters of either the NDP or the Liberals said they liked the idea of joint-nomination meetings. Conservative supporters were strongly opposed.

Younger voters were significantly more likely to back the concept than older voters, the poll suggests.

Lorne Bozinoff, the president of Forum Research, said there is no way of knowing whether the poll reflects the opinions of the people who will be voting in the NDP leadership race so it is impossible to know whether this means that Mr. Cullen has an edge.

“But his idea does resonate with the public,” said Mr. Bozinoff. “He has to be associated with that idea in the public mind for that to have some leverage” for his campaign.

The telephone poll of 1,675 randomly selected Canadians has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.39 percentage points 19 times out of 20.

Meanwhile, Alice Funke, a business intelligence specialist for the federal government who crunches political numbers in her spare time, has been looking at the weekly financial reports filed by the candidates with Elections Canada and says Mr. Cullen could be gaining some traction.

“A closer look at monthly donation data in the NDP leadership race suggests that Nathan Cullen’s momentum may see him overtake Thomas Mulcair in the next week, if current trends prevail,” Ms. Funke writes on her blog. “More people gave money to Cullen than Dewar, Mulcair or Nash in the first 18 days of February, and he raised nearly as much money as the front-runner Mulcair over the same period.”

Ballots are already being cast by the nearly 130,000 New Democrats who will select the person to succeed Jack Layton as leader of their party. The race wraps up on March 24 at a convention in Toronto that is expected to be attended by more than 3,000 people.

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