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ontario politics

Sandra Pupatello, left, and Kathleen Wynne lead the race and have begun reaching out to win over delegate support.Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

Sandra Pupatello is putting on her game to win over rivals for Ontario's Liberal leadership, promising them positions on her team and pitching herself as the woman who can captain it to victory.

"They all know that they'll be a big part of my team, and I tell them that," she said in an interview on Tuesday. "I've had a good working relationship with all of them, so I know they'll all be put to extremely good use."

The front-runner in the race to succeed Premier Dalton McGuinty said she has not discussed cabinet posts with the other contenders.

Ms. Pupatello and Kathleen Wynne lead the pack after securing the highest numbers of delegates in voting last weekend. But with both falling short of an outright majority, they must lock up second and third-ballot support. Delegates are committed to vote for their declared candidate only in the first round.

Support was lowest for both women in the vote-rich Toronto suburbs, where local MPPs Harinder Takhar and Charles Sousa made strong showings.

Ms. Wynne said her volunteers are reaching out to delegates who have pledged to back her rivals on the first ballot at the convention on the weekend of Jan. 25. She is also staying in regular contact with the other candidates, having breakfast with Gerard Kennedy on Tuesday.

"It's not as explicit as, 'are you going to come to me or am I going to come to you,'" Ms. Wynne told The Globe and Mail. "It's more about [ensuring] our relationship is intact and the trust is there."

Ms. Wynne pulled in 25 per cent of the delegates to Ms. Pupatello's 27 per cent province-wide. Surprisingly, Ms. Wynne's strongest support was not in her home city of Toronto, where she picked up 29 per cent of the delegates, but in the eastern and central areas, where she managed 35 per cent, according to unofficial returns.

Ms. Wynne beat her rivals in seven of the 10 ridings where Liberal MPPs endorsed her. In three – Brampton-Springdale, Guelph and York West – Mr. Takhar, who targeted specific ridings, won the most votes. "What I'm pleased about is that I have support all across the province," Ms. Wynne said. "Wherever you look, I've managed to secure delegates."

Ms. Pupatello's best results were in the north (48 per cent), Ottawa (46 per cent) and her southwest home base (32 per cent).

A Liberal insider said it was a "conscious decision" on the part of her camp to concentrate on these areas, where many ridings have relatively few party members competing for the same number of delegate slots as the populous constituencies of the Greater Toronto Area. "It's strictly a numbers game," he said. "It proved to be the right strategy."

Ms. Pupatello started calling delegates in rival camps as soon as the results came in on Sunday night. She enlisted caucus supporters and her husband to make phone calls "It's like a full-court press, with each of the candidates in the race and their delegates and their organizers," she said. "Because ultimately, at the end of all of this, I'm going to want everybody's best organizers."

Also crucial will be winning over the current and former MPPs and party officials who get a vote at the convention. Between Ms. Pupatello and Ms. Wynne, a quarter of these ex-officio delegates have been locked up. That number is certain to grow as party members who ran the votes last weekend start publicly declaring their intentions.

The other candidates – Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Takhar, Mr. Sousa and Eric Hoskins – have said they will not quit before the convention to back another contender.