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The uncharitable comparisons began long before the victory was even announced.

Will Ed Stelmach, Alberta's new Premier, become the province's next Harry Strom?

For Albertans, who breathe political history the same way sports fans memorize player's stats, the story of Mr. Strom's political death is well known. He was the affable honest farmer and veteran politician from southeastern Alberta who inherited the Social Credit Party from Ernest Manning in 1968.

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But it was on Mr. Strom's watch that the Socred political dynasty ended after 36 years in power.

An energetic young man by the name of Peter Lougheed was the leader the Progressive Conservative Party, which went on to defeat Mr. Strom's Socreds in the 1971 election.

The economy was bad. The Socreds were tired. Albertans wanted change. The Tories seemed fresh with their smart, charismatic and flashy leader.

Under Mr. Stelmach, the 55-year-old farmer from northeastern Alberta and long-time member of the legislature, the Tories are hoping to extend the 35-year rule Mr. Lougheed kicked off. But the opposition parties are rubbing their hands, hoping the curse of Mr. Strom is hanging over Alberta's 13th premier as Mr. Stelmach will be forced to bring together the disgruntled right wing of the party who backed Ted Morton and those who supported Jim Dinning, derisively known as Diamond Jim. Mr. Dinning's campaign also received a rare endorsement from Mr. Lougheed.

"He's a bit like a cowboy sitting on a horse with two heads," said Liberal Leader Kevin Taft, who was on hand at Tory party headquarters Saturday night in Edmonton as the ballots were being counted.

He was grinning, glad-handing and talking to reporters about Mr. Stelmach's task presiding over a party that remains deeply divided. Rumours have already been circulating about high-profile Liberals Mr. Taft has lined up to run in the next provincial election.

But many aren't as quick to count Mr. Stelmach out.

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"He isn't Harry Strom," Iris Evans, Alberta Health Minister and loyal Stelmach supporter said Saturday night as it became clear Mr. Stelmach was pulling out of third place to jump into first, "He's Ed Stelmach and nobody will ever underestimate him again."

Ms. Evans is expected to take a leadership role in Mr. Stelmach's first cabinet.

Dave Hancock, a leadership hopeful who was bumped off the first ballot last month and promptly threw his support behind Mr. Stelmach, also dismissed the negative comparisons.

"It's a different situation. It's a different time," he said. "Do you think Harry Strom could have done that? Tripled his vote in a week? That's a guy who connects with people, a guy who can bring the party together."

Albertans favour political dynasties. Since the province joined Confederation in 1905, only four different parties have formed governments: The Liberals, the United Farmers of Alberta, Social Credit and now the Progress Conservatives.

When Mr. Strom's party was thrown out it was a different time and Mr. Strom wasn't up to the job.

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"It is true he inherited an old ship encrusted with barnacles," John J. Barr wrote in Alberta Premiers of the Twentieth Century about Mr. Strom.

"But it was a ship that could still run with the wind, if properly steered."

It's premature to start making comparisons between Stelmach and Strom, said political scientist Faron Ellis, of Lethbridge Community College.

Alberta is enjoying prosperity, outgoing premier Ralph Klein is still popular and Mr. Taft's Liberals do not represent something "new and credible," which Albertans historically demand in dismantling dynasties.

Mr. Stelmach has no intention of repeating history, but rather making it.

"That's what this campaign is all about," he told party members early yesterday morning, "our future and generations to come."

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