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New Democratic Party Leader and premier-elect Darrell Dexter addresses supporters after winning the Nova Scotia provincial election, in Dartmouth, N.S.

Darrell Dexter points to his varied career with navy public affairs, in print journalism and as a lawyer as rich experiences that helped shaped him.

But his victory tonight and his status as Nova Scotia's next premier probably owes more to long years behind the scenes of the province's New Democrats.

Mr. Dexter saw what worked and, much more often, what did not.

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He volunteered on Alexa McDonough's federal campaign in 1979, watching her finish third. A decade later he was helping out on a provincial campaign team hoping to break out of fringe-party status. They were out-manoeuvred and won their usual couple of seats.

By the late-1990s Mr. Dexter was a local city councillor persuaded to run as a provincial NDP candidate. He was carrying the flag in a riding seen as unwinnable but the ground was shifting in the province. He won his seat, one of 19 NDP candidates elected in 1998.

He took the reins three years later and began building a credible NDP alternative to the parties that have held power here since Confederation. That included an emphasis on moderate pragmatism.

Mr. Dexter, who once jokingly called himself a "conservative progressive," was able to work with John Hamm's minority Progressive Conservative government from 2003 to 2006. That government was replaced with another Tory minority, letting Mr. Dexter continue to influence policy while building his profile.

Cape Breton University political science professor David Johnson said that image is a big part of what resonates with voters.

"Darrell Dexter is starting to look like the avuncular Nova Scotia leader," he said in the early days of the campaign. "It's like Nova Scotians are looking for a friendly uncle, someone you'd like to have over for dinner or a kitchen party."

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About the Author

Oliver Moore joined the Globe and Mail's web newsroom in 2000 as an editor and then moved into reporting. A native Torontonian, he served four years as Atlantic Bureau Chief and has worked also in Afghanistan, Grenada, France, Spain and the United States. More

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