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Smitherman, Ford deadlocked in Toronto mayoral race: poll

Mayoral candidates, clockwise from left, Rocco Rossi, Joe Pantalone, George Smitherman, Rob Ford and Sarah Thomson photographed during an earlier debate.

Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail

A new poll conducted over Thanksgiving weekend shows a dead heat between Toronto mayoral frontrunners Rob Ford and George Smitherman, with the former deputy premier edging the Etobicoke councillor by one percentage point.

Of the 400 people surveyed in the Ipsos Reid poll, conducted for Newstalk 1010, 31 per cent said they plan to vote for Mr. Smitherman - and 30 per cent supported Mr. Ford. Deputy mayor Joe Pantalone garnered 11 per cent of the vote, while 4 per cent of those polled said they'd vote for Rocco Rossi if the vote were held tomorrow.

This shows a significant change from previous polls, which gave Mr. Ford a commanding lead: A 1,000-person Nanos poll conducted for The Globe, CTV and CP24 in early September gave Mr. Ford a 24-percentage-point lead; an Ipsos Reid poll conducted Sept. 24-26 gave Mr. Ford a five-percentage-point lead - 28 per cent of the 400 people surveyed, compared with 23 per cent for Mr. Smitherman.

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Mr. Ford, whose mantra of cutting waste at City Hall has given him momentum since he entered the race in March, became the candidate to beat after Labour Day. Mr. Smitherman has sold himself as the candidate most likely to defeat the Etobicoke councillor, and it appears to be working: He has won endorsements from both sides of the political spectrum - from the likes of councillor Joe Mihevc, who said he would otherwise have supported Mr. Pantalone but is worried about his ability to defeat Mr. Ford, and writer Peter C. Newman, who had previously supported Mr. Rossi but subsequently changed his mind for the same reason.

The poll also indicated a sizable number of voters are still on the fence, however: A quarter of those polled said they still have no idea whom they'll vote for come Oct. 25. And while the majority - 54 per cent - of those polled said they intend to cast a ballot on election day, voter intention was highest in Etobicoke, (73 per cent), followed by Toronto (60 per cent), East York (53 per cent), Scarborough (51 per cent) and North York (38 per cent). Mr. Pantalone's supporters said they're the most likely to vote, with 72 per cent saying they intend to cast a ballot. He's followed by those supporting Mr. Smitherman (65 per cent), Mr. Ford (57 per cent) and Mr. Rossi (37 per cent).

The takeaway, said Ipsos-Reid's John Wright, is that while Mr. Smitherman's message isn't compelling enough on its own to move the vote, antipathy toward Mr. Ford is.

"I think there's a fair bit of truth in the fact there are a great proportion of people who are voting against Rob Ford through George Smitherman, rather than voting for Mr. Smitherman," he said.

Mr. Smitherman said he isn't worried about being buoyed by anti-Ford sentiment, rather than enthusiasm for his own policies.

"The numbers confirm what we've been feeling, which is that it's a head-to-head race for the future of Toronto between me and Rob Ford," Mr. Smitherman said.

"When they count the ballots on election night they don't split them into different piles - they're either for you or your opponents. … Obviously [Mr. Ford's]plans and values for Toronto are very different from mine. We've got an optimistic and positive viewpoint that's based on progressive values and want to be able to move our city forward. The next 10 or 12 days gives us a chance to keep building the number of people that are part of our voting base."

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Mr. Ford said in a statement he isn't fazed by the new numbers.

"As I've said all along, polls go up and down, and the only one that matters is on October 25th. I'm going to keep working as hard as I can, and leave it up to the voters of Toronto as to who they trust to get the city's finances in order."

Ultimately, Mr. Wright said, it comes down to which candidate is most successful at encouraging their supporters to cast ballots. The survey didn't winnow out people who said they aren't likely to vote Oct. 25. Municipal elections have notoriously low voter turnout: In 2006, only 39 per cent of Torontonians showed up to vote.

"The real issue you're dealing with here is motivation. Can Rob Ford get a very committed group of people who believe very much in him out to the polls? And then you've got a somewhat reluctant group of people who support George Smitherman who are more intent on going to the polls - that's the dynamic we've got going on right now. … Both frontrunners have some work to do."

The Ipsos Reid poll is accurate within 4.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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Kelly Grant is a health reporter with The Globe and Mail. More

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