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Anne McLellan is a seasoned political fighter, but these days she is even taking jabs from teenagers who can't legally vote.

During an election forum at a high school recently, the Liberal candidate and deputy prime minister was hit with pointed -- sometimes brutal -- questions.

Krista Glegloff, a 17-year-old decked out in Tory campaign buttons, running shoes and a bouncy ponytail, asked Ms. McLellan, 55, whether she "truly deserved" her senior cabinet position when she has won only election squeakers in Edmonton Centre.

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Throughout it all, the woman who is known as Landslide Annie because of her four cliffhanger wins, remained unflappable and upbeat.

But with polls showing that the Conservatives are likely to form the next government, many are wondering whether Ms. McLellan -- and her party in Alberta -- are coming to the end of their political careers.

Maintaining a presence in a province that has long complained of being ignored or mistreated by Ottawa has been a colossal task for the Liberals. For decades, Alberta has been an almost-impenetrable Conservative fortress.

In 2004, the Liberals kept only two of Alberta's 28 ridings from going Tory blue. However, Liberal MP David Kilgour left the party last year to sit as an Independent.

He is not seeking re-election, and Tory organizers are confident they can recapture the seat -- Edmonton-Mill Woods-Beaumont -- in a race that has pitted rookie Conservative candidate Mike Lake against Liberal Amarjit Grewal, another political neophyte.

So, Edmonton Centre, a downtown riding, is quickly becoming the Liberals' last hope in oil-rich Alberta. And a new poll is predicting that Ms. McLellan is in trouble.

The Edmonton Journal published a poll late last week showing her Tory competitor, Laurie Hawn, in the lead with the support of 42 per cent of decided voters. Ms. McLellan is trailing with 35 per cent. Liberal Leader Paul Martin attended a rally in her riding last night in an effort to help her save her seat.

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"Until the last vote is counted in my riding, I don't say anything," said Ms. McLellan, a former law professor. "I don't say I won; I don't say I lost. . . . It's up to the voters."

In her first election in 1993, she won by one ballot, earning her famous nickname. The margin rose to 11 votes after a recount.

She has a massive, well-financed machine -- one of the richest in the province -- to drum up votes. During the early days of the campaign, Ms. McLellan even felt secure enough to campaign for other Liberals in Ontario for a few days.

But unlike in past contests, it is not clear whether her long-standing argument that Alberta needs a Liberal voice in Ottawa, especially at the cabinet table, is still relevant.

During the tight 2004 national election, a coalition of prominent Alberta Tories, including former prime minister Joe Clark and four former provincial cabinet ministers, threw their support behind her, arguing that her political clout was invaluable for Alberta. This time around, those Tory voices have remained virtually silent.

However, political observers are not sure how much voters in her riding even care about her high-ranking government position.

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"I think the people in Edmonton Centre have a very complex electoral calculus that they contemplate," said Linda Trimble, a political science professor at the University of Alberta. "And in the end, a lot of people vote for her because they like her. . . . It's not just because she's at the cabinet table."

Mr. Hawn, 58, a former fighter pilot, acknowledged Ms. McLellan is well liked, but added that this time she likely will be dragged down by her scandal-ridden party. In 2004, Mr. Hawn lost to Ms. McLellan by 721 votes.

"This campaign is different. At the doors, people are talking about change a lot more," he said. "Obviously, the whole Liberal Party is under a lot more pressure nationwide, which puts a lot more pressure on Anne McLellan here."

His campaign team recently came under fire after it distributed envelopes in the riding that read, "If you were a friend of the Liberals, this envelope would be full of cash." Mr. Hawn brushes off the criticism, saying the envelopes were a "tongue-in-cheek, pointed reminder of what's been going on."

John von Heyking, a political science professor at the University of Lethbridge, said that because the McLellan race is the only true contest in Alberta, all eyes will be on her riding next Monday.

He said the news media and political parties try to talk up other riding races -- including Edmonton Strathcona, where 34-year-old Tory incumbent Rahim Jaffer is said to be in a three-way race with the Liberal and New Democratic Party candidates -- but it is often wishful thinking.

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He said that if the Conservatives form the next government, Stephen Harper, like former Tory prime minister Brian Mulroney, will likely take every Alberta riding. Prof. von Heyking speculated that this will be both a blessing and curse for the party, which has deep philosophical roots in Alberta.

"It will be payback time," he said, referring to the number of Alberta Conservative MPs who will be hankering for cabinet posts. "They've been around forever and have slogged it out on the opposition benches. They will want a reward." (In the Mulroney government, the province got three cabinet ministers.)

"Harper will be expected to go beyond that," Prof. von Heyking said. "The pressure on him will be great."

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