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The Saskatchewan Party steamrolled over the NDP and Liberals in the Carrot River byelection Thursday.

Saskatchewan Party candidate Allan Kerpan, as expected, garnered nearly 50 per cent of the vote with 2,190 ballots cast, while NDP candidate Mark Pitzel had 1,411 or 30.9 per cent. Liberal Kathy McIntyre finished third with 932 or 20.4 per cent. There were 20 ballots rejected.

"We had a really good, strong, convincing win, no question about that," said a jubilant Mr. Kerpan following his win.

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Saskatchewan Party leader Elwin Hermanson was also pleased with the results.

"We were confident going in that the Saskatchewan Party would hold the seat and it appears the support is still at around that 50-per-cent mark which is an excellent vote of confidence in the riding," said Mr. Hermanson from the legislature in Regina.

Deputy NDP premier Clay Serby said the results re-enforce the idea of an urban-rural split when it comes to the way the Saskatchewan people will vote heading into the next general election expected as early as this fall.

"'I think it continues to demonstrate that we have strength, as the NDP, in the urban ridings and the Saskatchewan Party continues to hold its strength in rural areas," Mr. Serby said. "This will be a very, very tight general election."

Joseph Garcea, a political studies professor at the University of Saskatchewan agreed, saying the next general election will depend heavily on so-called swing seats - those where none of the parties are favoured.

"Very little will change in the rural areas unless there is a major cleavage issue or major candidates that can shift votes," he said.

"All indications are that there is very little dramatic shift. Everyone is holding their own."

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Mr. Kerpan replaces Saskatchewan Party member Carl Kwiatkowski in the legislature. Mr. Kwiatkowski reportedly committed suicide in his Carrot River constituency office earlier this year.

"'I'm not sure this was a win so much for Allan Kerpan as it was for Carl Kwiatkowski and a whole bunch of other people that did a lot of work up here over the last 5 1/2 years," said Mr. Kerpan. "I think that was a big factor."

Both the Liberals and the NDP campaigned hard against Mr. Kerpan in the weeks before the vote.

The Liberals pounded away at the fact that Mr. Kerpan, a former MP, does not live in the northeastern riding. He farms near Kenaston, south of Saskatoon.

One campaign pamphlet that suggested that even with the new 110-kilometre speed limit that the province put in place earlier this month, Mr. Kerpan couldn't make the trip to the constituency in less than four hours.

Mr. Kerpan took the attacks in stride, saying he would buy a home in the constituency if he wins. He had lost nomination battles in Saskatoon Eastview and Kindersley before getting the nod in Carrot River Valley.

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The Carrot River Valley constituency, which includes the northeastern communities of Nipawin, Hudson Bay and Carrot River, has an economy dependent on farming, forestry and tourism.

The NDP had held the riding prior to 1999, when they were kicked out over dissatisfaction with health care and the agricultural economy.

With a provincial election likely just a few months away, many voters hadn't bothered to tune in to the byelection. It hasn't helped that the riding's boundaries will be reconfigured before the next general vote.

The outcome of the byelection don't affect the balance of power in the 58-seat legislature. The New Democrats currently govern with a coalition of 29 members, plus two Independents. The Saskatchewan Party now has 26 members. The Liberals have one.

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