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Rob Ford addresses the crowd at Ford Fest, as his wife, Renata, and children, Stephanie and Doug, look on on Saturday.Chris Young/The Canadian Press

Genya Haver, a 69-year-old Toronto resident who spent her Sunday afternoon shopping for fresh organic vegetables, wants to vote for Olivia Chow in the October municipal election, but she isn't going to.

"I'll be voting for John Tory," she said with a sigh.

Ms. Haver lives in Toronto's central Beach neighbourhood, an area the progressive Ms. Chow needs to win if she wants to become mayor. "I'd like to vote for Olivia," Ms. Haver said, "but I have to make a strategic vote. I want to make sure Doug Ford doesn't get in."

It's the same conclusion reached by Margaret Whelan, a 61-year-old social services retiree.

"I'm going to reluctantly vote John Tory," Ms. Whelan said en route to a yoga class on the trendy Danforth strip, another must-win area for Ms. Chow. "[Ms. Chow] is my first choice but I don't think she can win. Tory can beat the Fords. And I think he'll do an okay job."

Even in Kensington Market, the whimsy capital of Toronto progressivism and Ms. Chow's former federal riding, her support can be tentative.

"I think in the beginning of the election I was more geared toward her. I was interested to hear what she had to say, but now I'm not too excited about her," said 35-year-old artist Amanda Shear. "She doesn't articulate her position very well. I can't say for certain what her campaign is about."

Ms. Shear said she would likely end up voting for Ms. Chow although she's considering spoiling her ballot and checking off Duck for Mayor – he's a campaigning puppet.

These real-life takes on the state of the race help explain the latest poll from Ipsos Reid. The survey released on Friday once again suggests the Oct. 27 election is Mr. Tory's to lose. The former Progressive Conservative leader turned talk-radio host was way ahead with 48 per cent of the vote, while Ms. Chow and Doug Ford were tied at 26 per cent each. But the real headline out of that survey was the fact Mr. Tory isn't just winning, he's winning everywhere – including territory that should be going to Mr. Ford and Ms. Chow based on historic voting trends.

Mr. Tory has more than 50 per cent of the vote in both Etobicoke and the old city of Toronto.

"If we discussed this six months ago, I'd say John would be in the situation Olivia is in now. It just shows you campaigns matter," said Darrell Bricker, CEO of Ipsos Public Affairs.

Mr. Bricker said he believes Ms. Chow has struggled to present herself as a compelling leader. Mr. Tory – a moderate conservative who is socially liberal – has become the compromise candidate.

"In this election, John Tory has been able to do what no one has been able to do before: break down the barriers between the suburbs and the downtown," Mr. Bricker said.

One big thing is driving this election, he added: the anti-Ford vote. "People so desperately want the Fords out of office that they want to vote for the person who has the best chance of doing that."

And that means an almost insurmountable hill for Ms. Chow to climb in less than a month.

Bernie Morton, who ran businessman Rocco Rossi's campaign in 2010, said Ms. Chow's only hope is to knock Mr. Tory down to a point where she is the anyone-but-Ford candidate, which is not an easy task.

"Olivia would have to hope that John Tory really screws up somehow. Otherwise, there's not much you can do. Negative campaigning is an option, but it's really expensive, and I'm not sure it would play well for her,' Mr. Morton said.

Mr. Morton says the problem for Ms. Chow is that left-wingers are comfortable voting for Mr. Tory – even if they'd prefer her.

So how do you convince your core to skip strategic voting? Ms. Chow, who stopped by the Soupalicious festival in mid-town Sunday afternoon, said people need to vote for what they believe in.

"Voting based on hope is much better than voting based on fear. I can't see how voting based on fear would create a better city," Ms. Chow said, invoking the words of her late husband, NDP leader Jack Layton. "We can't afford four more years of the Ford-Tory policies."

Mr. Tory was asked about his downtown support at a campaign event in Riverdale.

"I think people downtown are responding to the fact they don't want four more years of division and chaos," Mr. Tory said. "It's time to bring an end to this business of dividing the city on the basis of downtown versus the suburbs. We all live in Toronto. We all love Toronto."

Meanwhile, on Saturday Mayor Rob Ford made his first appearance at a public event since his hospital admission at the annual Ford Fest family barbecue in support of brother Doug.

Flanked by his brother, wife Renata and his two kids, an energetic-looking mayor took the stage in an Etobicoke field at about 7:30 p.m. Saturday, wearing a black suit and sporting a shorter haircut, and shouting to the crowd "I love you, Ford Nation."

Since his admission to hospital in mid-September and subsequent diagnosis with liposarcoma – a rare form of cancer – the mayor has not been seen at public events. His arrival Saturday at the annual Ford Fest family barbecue was met by at least 1,000 supporters, many of them wearing "Ford Mayor" T-shirts, shouting "Ford More Years! Ford More Years!" The mayor arrived at the barbecue a few hours after it started, driving himself and his family in his black Escalade.

"I have to take a bit of a break. My health does come first," the mayor said, his voice sounding hoarse but strong. "That doesn't mean I'm out of the race."

Onstage, the mayor listed off a series of his accomplishments during his tenure, crediting those to both him and "best friend" Doug. "Doug Ford is going to be the next mayor of Toronto," the mayor said.

Doug, who stood beside his brother throughout the speech, then took the mic to say: "Rob, I promise I won't let you down."