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Over half of 300,000 eligible to vote for Liberal leadership back Trudeau, campaign says

Federal Liberal Party leadership candidates Martha Hall Findlay, Justin Trudeau and Martin Cauchon, left to right, laugh during a debate on March 3, 2013. The federal Liberals are weeding out duplicate names and mischief makers as they count the Canadians who are eligible to vote for their new leader, but party sources say the final number will approach 300,000.

Devaan Ingraham/Reuters

The federal Liberals are weeding out duplicate names and mischief makers as they count the Canadians who are eligible to vote for their new leader, but party sources say the final number will approach 300,000.

That is far more than the 128,000 members that the New Democrats had on their lists last year when Thomas Mulcair was elected to lead that party. And it gives the Liberals some hope that the surge of support will translate into votes in the next general election.

The party, which in 2011 was reduced to 34 seats and third-party status in the Commons, set Sunday of this week as the final day for signing up people to vote in the leadership race that ends in April. But it will be several days before the final numbers will be made public.

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There was a "huge diverse pre-cutoff surge of supporters. Exceeded expectations. Need couple of days to scrub list," Liberal party president Mike Crawley said Monday via Twitter.

Party spokeswoman Sarah Bain said the lists are being checked for questionable data including fake names and people who may have signed up two or three times by supporting multiple candidates.

In January, the Liberals said about 96,000 Canadians were eligible to vote for the new leader. Roughly 55,000 of those were party members and the rest were part of a new "supporter" class who do not need to pay the $10 membership fee but will still be allowed to cast a ballot.

Any number approaching 300,000 that combines those two categories of voters would represent a considerable increase.

"We are happy with how big the surge has been," Ms. Bain said, "but that's not the number that's going to be important to us. We have a major push to covert these supporters and members to voters."

By signing up all of these people, she said, the party has created a huge database of names and e-mails from which to recruit volunteers and rally support.

The top leadership contestants refused Monday to release the number of supporters they enlisted. On Sunday, the campaign team of Quebec MP Justin Trudeau, who is believed to be the prohibitive favourite, said he alone had signed up more than 150,000.

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Wayne Easter, a Liberal MP from Prince Edward Island who is backing Mr. Trudeau, said Monday that he believed Mr. Trudeau's supporters to exceed 160,000.

"It shows the supporter category is working," Mr. Easter said. "It is trying to bring some youth and vitality into the leadership at least which, I think, gives us an opening to get them involved in the party and to be involved in politics."

Joyce Murray, a British Columbia MP who is believed to be one of the leading contenders for the leadership, said she has enlisted tens of thousands of supporters.

"The people that I am attracting are very clear that we have to stop the vote splitting in order to defeat Stephen Harper and change our electoral system and fix our democracy," Ms. Murray said. "So I think those are people who will be very committed to continuing on and being part of the 2015 election."

Nik Nanos, president of the polling firm Nanos Research, said the numbers will give the Liberals some confidence that they are ready at least to take on the NDP.

"This membership number is very important in terms of mobilizing the Liberal core voter," Mr. Nanos said. "We're not talking about Liberal Party members, but people who in the past have voted Liberal but who have strayed from the Liberal family because they haven't been happy."

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