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Liberal leader Justin Trudeau speaks with Stampede goers at the Hays Breakfast at Heritage Park during the 101st Calgary Stampede in Calgary , Ab. Sunday, July 7, 2013

Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

In June of 1968, Pat Mahoney persuaded 47 per cent of the residents of Calgary South to choose him as their MP during Pierre Trudeau's first election. Since then, no federal Liberal has won an election in the heart of conservative Canada.

Forty-seven years later, a Liberal Party being led by another Trudeau contesting his first election at the helm is adamant that the long drought is coming to an end.

"Calgarians deserve much better from their representatives," Justin Trudeau said on Thursday as he introduced his party's candidates to a packed hall in downtown Calgary.

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As Mr. Trudeau rallies voters in southern Alberta, Liberal organizers boast that the party's current slate of candidates in the province is one of the strongest it has ever fielded. At the centre of their hopes of breaking the party's losing streak is Kent Hehr.

A popular Liberal MLA, the 45-year-old is running in the Calgary Centre riding that covers most of the city's downtown.

"I feel nothing but support wherever I go. It's going to happen," Mr. Hehr said of a win for the Liberals. "And it'll just be a reflection of the way the demographics have changed in Calgary Centre. It's a Liberal riding, and now they've got someone to vote for."

The riding overlaps the constituency Mr. Hehr has represented in the provincial legislature since 2008.

The day after introducing some of his candidates, Mr. Trudeau delivered a speech at the Calgary Petroleum Club that was interrupted by enthusiastic applause by some members of the audience. The private club caters to the city's oil elite, a group that has a turbulent history with the Liberals and the Trudeau family.

"I'm the Leader of the Liberal Party of Canada, my last name is Trudeau and I'm standing here at the Petroleum Club in Calgary. I understand how energy issues can divide the country," Mr. Trudeau said, alluding to unpopular energy policies implemented by prime minister Pierre Trudeau.

Unlike some of his predecessors, Justin Trudeau has had a consistent presence in Calgary. While locals remember snubs by former prime ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin during past elections, Mr. Trudeau made Alberta's largest city the first stop during his leadership campaign.

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According to Duane Bratt, the chair of policy studies at Calgary's Mount Royal University, the Liberals could win two seats in the province. After decades of struggling, he says, that would qualify as a breakthrough.

"Justin Trudeau has spent an awful amount of time in Calgary; he's trying to woo this city," Dr. Bratt said. "I've told [Mr. Hehr] that he can win this riding, but Justin could lose it for him."

Dr. Bratt said the number of students who lined up to listen to Mr. Trudeau at Mount Royal stunned him. During the question-and-answer session that followed, none asked about Mr. Trudeau's father or Pierre Trudeau's controversial National Energy Program.

"That was 30 years ago. The mythology of the NEP is still alive in Calgary, but the number of people who were here for that is shrinking with every year," he said.

While 27 of Alberta's 28 MPs are Conservatives – a New Democrat represents a riding near downtown Edmonton – Mr. Trudeau's Liberals say the province's politics are more progressive than they appear.

To win the 2012 provincial election, Alison Redford ran a left-leaning campaign that promised to end poverty and created debt to build new schools. In Calgary, the re-election of Mayor Naheed Nenshi and the election of progressive councillors in the city's sprawl are held up as signs that today's Calgarians have changed their politics.

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"The Liberal brand is changing in Alberta as the generation changes here," said Daryl Fridhandler, a long-time Liberal organizer in Alberta and a former party vice-chairman. "From an organizational perspective this is the best-run campaign I've seen. I'm hopeful good things are happening."

While some of the Liberals' past struggles in Alberta have been for lack of effort, the party has seen hoped-for breakthroughs fall apart. A close by-election in central Calgary in 2012 ended in a painful Liberal loss. Although Albertans have sent provincial Liberals to Edmonton for decades, the federal party has struggled to convert progressive votes into elected MPs.

Changing demographics could make a difference in 2015. On the north side of the Bow River from downtown Calgary, Matt Grant will be running for the Liberals in Calgary Confederation. A Liberal member since 2006, the lawyer says he's never seen crowds as young or as large as those that have gathered at party events over the past few months.

"This city is changing. There's an understanding that social issues aren't the tripping wire they used to be. The debates now are around tax and economic policy and the Liberals have been good fiscal stewards," Mr. Grant said.

Among the nearly 600 people who crowded a hall to see the party's candidates on Thursday was John Lentowicz. He first helped with the party's campaign in 1968 and kept active for decades, but he let his membership expire during the quick leadership turnover that followed Stéphane Dion's election as party leader. He rejoined during Mr. Trudeau's leadership bid.

"There was an old joke that the Liberals in Calgary could fill a telephone booth. Trudeau's drawing in new blood and that's changing," Mr. Lentowicz said. "I've been involved with the party for a long time, over 40 years, and I don't know if I've ever felt anything like this."

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Clarification: The original newspaper version of this article and an earlier digital version incorrectly said Mr. Trudeau's speech to Calgary's Petroleum Club was interrupted by standing ovations. In fact, while there was enthusiastic applause by some members of the audience, it was not a standing ovation.

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