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opinion

Say what you like about Stephen Harper's Conservatives – and few Canadians are indifferent about them – the party knows how to line up its political ducks.

Conservatives know their committed and potential supporters, and how to mobilize them. They marry domestic and foreign policy to energize those voters. They back up policy choices with messaging that is consistent, targeted and costly.

They raise more money from their supporters than the other parties. Conservative voters tend to be older, with the largest support among those over 65. Older people vote more than younger Canadians. To the over-65s, the Conservatives have directed very specific tax changes.

The last six months have offered a textbook example of the Conservatives' ducks-in-a-line strategy. The impressive strategy might not be enough come election time, but it won't be for lack of trying.

The Conservatives are focused not on broadening their base but activating the base they have. With perhaps one exception. Conservative support seems to have widened in Quebec, where the issues of terrorism and identity politics around Muslim women's head coverings, and the recruiting of several high-profile candidates, have helped.

The Conservatives need about 40 per cent of the national electorate to win. They benefit hugely from a split vote between the Liberals and New Democrats, a split that is not disappearing as the NDP gains ground in polling data and by winning the government in Alberta.

What the Conservatives feared is not happening: a strong Liberal surge in Quebec at the expense of the NDP. The only way for the Liberals to blast ahead of the Conservatives nationally was to win a majority of seats in Quebec. That now seems very unlikely, as Leader Justin Trudeau has not caught fire.

Split opposition is exactly what a party with a dedicated and motivated core vote needs. The party with such a core doesn't even think much about the other 60 per cent of the electorate. It wants its own hard core to coalesce by fearing some of the 60 per cent (the other parties return the favour by scaring their supporters with the thought of another Conservative government): social liberals, secularists, tax-and-spenders, Big Government lovers, CBC-watchers, "elites" of all kinds.

The Conservatives know how to craft a message. Keep it simple. Keep it short. Reinforce everything all the time. Make the party's four themes lock together: balanced budget, low taxes, smaller government, personal security. Mix in a little patriotism and Stephen Harper as a tried and trusted leader, and you have the Conservative campaign long before the election is called. All parties try tight messaging; the Conservatives do it best.

That's the macro-campaign. Then there is the micro-campaign: the targeted pitch to specific slices of the electorate backed by domestic and foreign policy signals.

The Conservatives' wooing of the Jewish vote knows no limits, a pro-Israel pitch that also resonates well with the party's evangelical Christian base.

Welcoming the Philippines' President and the Prime Minister of India gets milked electorally for every possible vote, especially through the ethnic press that is listened to and read by voters who trace their origins to those two countries. A prime ministerial visit to Iraq reinforces the message that Canada under Mr. Harper is engaged in the struggle against terrorism in the form of the Islamic State.

Omar Khadr, who as a teenager in Afghanistan killed a U.S. soldier, should stay in jail, the Prime Minister insists. It's a message his core will like, part of the "tough on crime," "tough on terror," "we will keep you safe," messaging.

The budget appealed specifically to single-income (old-style traditional) families and, critically, seniors. The budget's themes were then pounded home in advertisements paid for by taxpayers, including on television during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Before the election writ is dropped, and of course during the campaign, the messages will be relentless, courtesy of the taxpayers and the advantage the Conservatives enjoy in fundraising over the other parties, an advantage honed by knowing supporters and what motivates them.

The party script will always be tight. Every candidate, every organizer will say the same thing. The media, nationally and locally, will be kept at arm's length. The Prime Minister will only do events at which spontaneity is banned.

The Conservatives have done politics this way from Day One. They are pros at it. They will do it again, for they know no other way. Whether after a nearly a decade of watching this performance Canadians want a change of actors remains to be seen.