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NDP race hinges more on votes already cast than those on second ballot

What you must do if you are pondering the results of the first round voting at the NDP leadership convention is ask yourself not how people will vote, but how they have already voted.

A little more than half of the eligible NDP members cast ballots in the first round to choose the next leader. We know the great majority of those ballots were preferential – which means the candidates were ranked in preference – and were mailed in or sent in online in advance of this convention.

So the influence of those voting today – about 10,000 on the first ballot – is far from defining. What matters is the second-choice picks of those who already voted.

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Martin Singh, we know, had urged his supporters to go with Montreal MP Thomas Muclair as their second choice, which should give Mr. Mulcair – whose numbers are worryingly low on this first round – a bit of a boost now that Mr. Singh is gone. Prominent figures in the camp of Ottawa MP Paul Dewar, such as Northern Ontario MP Charlie Angus, are also endorsing Mr. Mulcair now that Mr. Dewar has dropped off.

But party strategist Brian Topp did very well on this first ballot, as did B.C. MP Nathan Cullen. Many NDP supporters are worried that a Mulcair victory will shift the party to the centre. And Mr. Mulcair, who is a bit of a lone wolf, is also opposed by the party establishment. All of that vote could flow to Mr. Topp.

Toronto MP Peggy Nash has strong union support, but she will be gone sooner or later, and much of that vote will flow as well to Mr. Topp, who also has strong union ties.

So this is a horse race.

One final observation from this first ballot: The two top finishers are both from Quebec. The party has rejected those candidates whose lack of strong French could eviscerate the party's new-found popularity in Quebec.

The NDP, it appears, knows it is Official Opposition because of Quebeckers, and aims to keep it that way.

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