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The Globe and Mail

Conservative campaign moves into caution mode

Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen talk with Virginie, 11, Nathan, 6, Jordan, 11 and Demy Pinard, 13 (left to right) during a campaign stop at the Pinard family home in Asbestos, Que., about 150 kilometres east of Montreal, Tuesday April 26, 2011.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press/Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press

Stephen Harper is growing more cautious on the campaign trail as the race for the Prime Minister's Office winds down, careful to avoid jeopardizing what could be a majority government win for the Conservatives.

The Tory Leader's election machine has run a classic front-runner campaign since the writ was dropped, protecting the leader from controversy to preserve the lead.

But the campaign has entered a new upkeep phase where the goal is apparently zero risk.

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Mr. Harper is growing even more economical in his responses to controversial questions from journalists - whether on the Afghanistan prison break or troubles dogging a Vancouver candidate - limiting the chance that he might stumble before the May 2 ballot.

The Conservative campaign is not looking to generate big headlines any more this campaign.

They believe they've succeeded in making their pitch to Canadians on why they deserve a majority and are content to let national attention wander to the NHL playoffs and the April 29 Royal Wedding.

Tory strategists expect the volume of airtime and news stories devoted to the 41st election to shrink noticeably as this Friday's nuptials at Westminster Abbey take centre stage, and that's fine with them. It's a bigger problem, they say, for those trying to catch up than it is for the front-runner.

The Conservative strategy of tightly restricting the number of questions reporters may ask of Mr. Harper each day helps him considerably right now. The national media on his plane are limited to four queries a day and are consequently required to cram multiple topics into each of these.

Mr. Harper's responses are equally restrained. Take his response to the

slow-burning controversy surrounding the price tag of the F-35 stealth fighter-bombers the Tories have committed to buy.

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In the face of new reports that costs could rise substantially, Mr. Harper offered a boilerplate reply.

"Many of these reports you are citing are comparing apples to oranges," Mr. Harper said Tuesday. "Our experts have put out their detailed figures and everything we've seen is within those figures and their contingencies, the contingencies that have been allowed."

With this answer, the Conservative Leader moved on to other matters.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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