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Sandra Pupatello will make jobs a key issue.

Chris Young/The Globe and Mail

The two front-runners in the Liberal leadership race are both staking out the political centre, with one saying her "mantra" is jobs and the other pledging to rebuild relations with the province's teachers.

Sandra Pupatello, a former member of Premier Dalton McGuinty's cabinet, jumped into the leadership race on Thursday, saying she plans to make the economy central to her campaign.

"I'm about jobs," Ms. Pupatello said at a news conference in Toronto before heading to her hometown of Windsor for her official launch. "It's going to be my mantra."

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Ms. Pupatello, 50, and former cabinet colleague Kathleen Wynne, 59, are the two leading contenders to replace Mr. McGuinty, who is stepping down after nine years in office.

Ms. Pupatello enters the race with the support of two cabinet ministers – Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, a long-time friend, and Bob Chiarelli, Minister of Transportation and Municipal Affairs and Housing. Mr. Chiarelli plans to hold an event in Ottawa on Friday for Ms. Pupatello. Also supporting her are Teresa Piruzza, Liberal MPP for Windsor West, the seat Ms. Pupatello held until last year, and former Liberal MPP Pat Hoy.

Ms. Wynne is also attracting caucus support, with Labour Minister Linda Jeffrey, Attorney-General John Gerretsen, and MPPs David Zimmer and Mario Sergio endorsing her.

Ms. Pupatello said that the eight years she spent in cabinet, holding down the economic development and trade portfolio, and education before that, leave her ideally positioned to focus on job creation and to put the province in a strong fiscal position to support health care and education, as well as to have an impact on social problems.

She vowed to reach out to oppositions leaders on how to make Ontario's job market more competitive with the United States.

Ms. Pupatello said she is in the political middle, a space that Ms. Wynne, who is perceived to be left of centre, also said she plans to occupy.

Opposition members said Ms. Pupatello cannot distance herself from problems in the McGuinty government despite the fact that she has worked over the past year in the private sector as director of business and global markets at PricewaterhouseCoopers.

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