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The 2015 federal election will require political parties to work harder than ever to capture the attention of the electorate. This story is part of Adam Radwanski's new assignment looking at how the party machines across the country are preparing.

Thomas Mulcair and the campaign director for his predecessor as NDP leader did not have a close relationship. By most accounts, Mr. Mulcair wanted to set himself apart from Jack Layton with his own advisers. But less than a year away from the federal election, the New Democrats struggling in the polls, he realized Brad Lavigne was needed.

Mr. Mulcair also realized, or was told, that Mr. Lavigne would not return to a senior role with his party unless the request came directly from its leader. So according to sources familiar with the story, Mr. Mulcair met Mr. Lavigne in person – away from Parliament Hill, on what might be considered neutral ground – and the two men set aside any differences they might have had. Shortly thereafter, it was announced that Mr. Lavigne has joined Mr. Mulcair's campaign as a senior adviser.

That a leader known for being proud and occasionally prickly was willing to make such a gesture did not just help him win back one adviser. Along with the recent recruitment of other experienced New Democrats from outside his own circle – such as Michael Balagus, a veteran of Manitoba and more recently Ontario politics – it also sent a signal to New Democrats that it's time for all hands on deck.

For observers of the federal parties' machinations in the run-up to this year's campaign, meanwhile, the wooing back of Mr. Lavigne raised the question of whether other leaders – one, in particular, whose disposition is not entirely dissimilar to that of Mr. Mulcair – will be willing to send similar signals.

Talk to Conservatives outside the tight circle that surrounds Stephen Harper, and you will frequently hear concern about the absence of many of the most important behind-the-scenes contributors to the Prime Minister's past electoral successes.

That's to some degree unavoidable. Doug Finley, the campaign director for Mr. Harper's first two election wins, died in 2013. Nigel Wright, the former chief of staff who played an integral and under-reported role in the Conservative war room in 2011, would presumably be disinclined to return given the rawness of his messy split with the government as part of the Mike Duffy scandal.

But the case of Patrick Muttart, widely considered a key architect of Conservative election wins because of his adeptness at designing advertising and other strategies that appealed to the party's target voters, is perhaps a different matter. Mr. Muttart, too, split from his party amid controversy – in his case, a peculiar incident in which he was blamed during the 2011 campaign for leaking false information about then-Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff to Sun Media. But although he now lives overseas, most people who know Mr. Muttart express the view that he could be swayed by a personal request from Mr. Harper to get back involved.

Most backroom types, really, have trouble resisting personal pleas from party leaders – let alone prime ministers – for their help. If they're a notch or two lower in status than someone like Mr. Muttart, then a call from the campaign director or another senior staffer would have the same effect.

The sense one gets, from talking to Conservatives around the country, is that not too many such calls have gone out as of yet. Mr. Harper is said by sources in his party to have reached out to Sean Speer, a former adviser, to precipitate his return from the Fraser Institute to help write the Conservatives' platform. But that appears to be the exception more than the rule, and Mr. Speer's estrangement seems to have been minimal.

In some cases there are personality conflicts with Mr. Harper's hard-driving campaign director, Jenni Byrne, or occasionally with the Prime Minister himself. In others, as often happens when a party has been in power a long time, former staffers or campaign workers have just drifted away, and those who have stayed the course may question their loyalty or commitment.

Of course, the Conservatives may not need all hands on deck, the way the NDP does. There is a big difference between being a governing party with poll numbers that suggest a decent chance at another term, and an Official Opposition running third. Unlike the crowd with which Mr. Mulcair initially surrounded himself, Ms. Byrne and others working alongside her have experience working at high levels of (successful) national campaigns. And it can sometimes be counterproductive to try to put together a backroom all-star team, because not everyone is capable of playing well with each other.

But in what promises to be a ferociously fought campaign, Mr. Harper may yet find he needs a few more hands than he has, and that it's in his interest to mend more fences than he planned on.