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Toronto mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi in this Jan. 21, 2010 file photo. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum / The Globe and Mail)
Toronto mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi in this Jan. 21, 2010 file photo. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum / The Globe and Mail)

Key Rossi staffer in talks to jump to Ford Add to ...

One of Rocco Rossi's prominent campaign co-chairs is negotiating a leap to front-runner Rob Ford in the event Mr. Rossi quits the mayoral race.

The talks come as external pressure mounts for Mr. Rossi to abandon his bid before advance polls open Tuesday.

John Capobianco offered his support and that of a handful of Rossi staffers during a Sept. 29 meeting at an Etobicoke Tim Hortons with Nick Kouvalis, Mr. Ford's deputy campaign manager, sources tell The Globe and Mail.

Two sources, one a Liberal close to the Rossi campaign, the other a Conservative close to the Ford campaign, also said Mr. Capobianco inquired about whether the Ford team would pay some of his workers for the final three weeks of the campaign.

Mr. Capobianco, who confirmed the meeting took place, dismissed as "absolute nonsense" the suggestion he sought money from the Ford campaign or spoke for anyone but himself.

He added that he would only switch allegiances if Mr. Rossi dropped out - something he doesn't believe will happen now.

Indeed, Mr. Rossi's campaign manager and his best-known volunteer adviser both insisted again Sunday that their candidate is gaining strength and confidence, thanks in part to a fresh internal poll showing Mr. Rossi in a "solid third."

"We've picked up most of Sarah [Thomson's]support," campaign manager Bernie Morton said.

He said he received the results Thursday, two days after Ms. Thomson ended her long-shot bid and threw her support to George Smitherman.

Mr. Rossi continued to campaign feverishly over the weekend.

He canvassed door-to-door and took part in a City TV debate Sunday night, while his staff and volunteers prepared to spend the wee hours of Monday morning pounding signs into lawns across Toronto.

The election ground war will begin in earnest Monday, the first day candidates are allowed to display signs other than outside their campaign offices.

"I'm telling you flat out, hook me up to a lie detector, I have not heard from a single person senior, junior or otherwise that Rocco should drop out," added Warren Kinsella, the Liberal adviser who joined Mr. Rossi's campaign at the end of August.

He dismissed the rumours as a ploy by Mr. Smitherman's camp.

"In our case, if we drop out, a lot of our support goes to Rob Ford ... this infantile desire of the Smitherman people to get Rocco to drop out is ridiculous. All it's going to do is put them further behind."

However, the Liberal source said much of the pressure is emanating from Queen's Park, where members of the sitting government are nervous a Ford victory could be a beachhead for the Conservatives in Toronto.

"I know there are a number of Queen's Park Liberals who - not just recently but over the last several weeks - have been saying to [Mr. Rossi]that the writing is on the wall ... 'You're not going to win this thing. So why stay until the end?' It's not one or two [people.]From what I understand it's quite a few."

A Rossi Liberal who has stepped back from the campaign in recent weeks described the atmosphere as "acrimonious."

"There certainly seems to be an enormous amount of turmoil inside the campaign."

One of the Liberals who first urged Mr. Rossi to quit was the campaign's original manager, Sachin Aggarwal.

While Mr. Aggarwal still believed the businessman and former chief executive of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario was the best man to replace David Miller, the polls convinced him victory was impossible.

In August, he encouraged his candidate to quit and support Mr. Smitherman.

That advice, coupled with the campaign's failure to gain traction, led Mr. Rossi to shuffle Mr. Aggarwal to director of policy. He's since left altogether.

Mr. Morton, a Conservative, reinvigorated the campaign with an edgy advertising campaign and bold policy proposals, including a push for recall legislation and a study of an 8-kilometre tunnel connecting the Allen and Gardiner expressways.

But Mr. Rossi's poll numbers barely budged. Three September polls by Ipsos Reid, Angus Reid and Nanos Research found he had between 7 and 9.7 per cent support, well behind Mr. Smitherman and Mr. Ford.

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