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Whether he withdraws or not, Pantalone's race is over Add to ...

Joe Pantalone has announced that his backers will be gathering at his campaign headquarters on Monday to build "Joe-mentum." It is a little late for that.

With just a week to go until election day, a new poll shows that his support has remained stagnant since June, while his rival George Smitherman has drawn nearly even with front-runner Rob Ford. The Nanos Research poll suggests that with Sarah Thomson and Rocco Rossi out of the race, the anti-Ford vote is coalescing around Mr. Smitherman, leaving Mr. Pantalone in the dust. His run for mayor is effectively over.

With this poll and other recent surveys showing a race to the finish line in the final seven days, the chances grow that the left-leaning and downtown voters who are Mr. Pantalone's core of support will abandon him for Mr. Smitherman to block the cost-cutting conservative Mr. Ford. The Nanos poll shows that while two-thirds or more of Smitherman and Ford voters are firm in their decision to vote for their candidate, only 47.5 per cent of Pantalone voters are firm.

Many of them could bolt on election day, putting aside their convictions in a rush to Mr. Smitherman. A good number of anti-Ford voters have already made that move. The Nanos poll shows a big shift to Mr. Smitherman since the last one shocked many in the city by showing Mr. Ford with a commanding lead.

The latest poll shows that Mr. Smitherman's support has grown nearly 20 percentage points since mid-September - not, it seems likely, because voters have awakened to Mr. Smitherman's awesomeness, but because they dislike the alternative.

To Mr. Pantalone's camp, all this must come as a disappointment but hardly a surprise. Mr. Pantalone was a long shot from the start - a deputy mayor, west-end ward boss and 30-year city hall veteran who was always bound to strike voters as yesterday's news. Labour unions, NDP organizers and other progressives went to him only when Mayor David Miller declined to run again, TTC chair Adam Giambrone dropped out in a sex scandal and there was no one else to represent the left.

Mr. Pantalone made things worse for himself by running a campaign based on a defence of the status quo. His message - things aren't as bad as you think, folks - was guaranteed to go down badly after a year that featured a strike, a sleeping ticket-taker, ranting city councillors and fiascoes like the St. Clair streetcar project.

While the four other original candidates promised to reorder the landscape, he billed himself as the careful gardener who would trim here, prune there but leave the foliage more or less as is. It was an uninspiring message delivered by an uninspiring messenger. Despite all his good qualities - experience and intelligence among them - Mr. Pantalone was simply never plausible for the role of mayor. Those who watched his campaign could not help wondering: Joe, what are you thinking?

It was close to pathetic when he boasted about receiving the least surprising endorsements of the campaign: from Mr. Miller, NDP Leader Jack Layton and NDP MP Olivia Chow. It was unconvincing when he tried to lump all his rivals together as "mini Mike Harrises" who would gut city services and risk turning Toronto into another Detroit.

Mr. Pantalone now finds himself in a fix. Pressure is growing on him to drop out and join the anti-Ford camp, but, after remarking recently that Mr. Smitherman is more dangerous than Mr. Ford, he would have a hard time turning around and crying: Smitherman for mayor. Simply abandoning the race without endorsing anyone, as Mr. Rossi did last week, would be hard too. Mr. Pantalone is a proud man and he has said over and over he is in it to the end.

Fortunately for him, voters seem to be making the decision for him. Whether he withdraws or not, they have concluded he is not a serious contender to win the mayoralty next Monday.

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