Dalton McGuinty's Liberals are picking up support in hotly-contested ridings in the final hours of the campaign, as growing uncertainty in the global economy helps his key message resonate with voters.
The Liberal Leader began the last day of the campaign in Windsor, where a couple of ridings in motor city remain too close to call. Sandra Pupatello, one of Mr. McGuinty's most popular ministers, is not running in Windsor West, and Bruce Crozier passed away shortly after announcing he was retiring from the riding of Essex.
Dwight Duncan, who is seeking a fifth term in the riding of Windsor-Tecumseh, told reporters he felt momentum growing in favour of the Liberals late last week in the region, while campaigning with Teresa Piruzza, who is running in Ms. Pupatello's old riding. Even people who had Progressive Conservative signs on their front lawn said they had changed their minds and planned to vote Liberal, Mr. Duncan said.
"I think people are starting to focus on who do we want running the show for the next few years," he said. "Do we want a guy who is more interested in chain gangs than in talking about the economy?"
The Liberals' new sense of confidence was on display during a rally in Windsor Tuesday evening. Liberal staffers were expecting about 30 supporters to be on hand when Mr. McGuinty's campaign bus arrived at the Holiday Inn on Huron Church Road around 10 p.m. He was greeted instead by a boisterous crowd of 300 cheering supporters.
Mr. Duncan climbed on to a table in the hotel lobby and introduced Mr. McGuinty as "the man who is going to sweep Ontario in two nights."
Mr. McGuinty, looking confident and relaxed, is playing it safe and staying on message during the home stretch. The confidence comes from the realization that his message that he is the best custodian of the economy is beginning to resonate. A senior Liberal said Tory Leader Tim Hudak's talk about chain gangs is distracting voters who are worried about jobs and the economy.
"There's only one party that has got your back in good times and in not so good times, when the winds are at our back and when the wind's against us," Mr. McGuinty said during a campaign stop at St. Clair College in Windsor. "There are some clouds forming on the horizon," he said. "Who do you want in your corner?"
Mr. Duncan said the Tory campaign is beginning to feel like a repeat of 1995. That time, however, it was the Liberals under Lyn McLeod who went into the race well ahead in the polls, only to lose to the Tories under Mike Harris following the televised leaders' debate.
"It was like air going out of a balloon the last three or four days," Mr. Duncan said.
This time around, victory or defeat for the Liberals in a string of ridings in southern Ontario will come down to razor-thin margins of just 50 to 100 votes, said the Liberal official.
Mr. McGuinty is focusing all of his efforts on wooing voters in ridings along the 401 Highway. On Tuesday, he was in Cambridge, Bolton and Pickering.
After Windsor on Wednesday, Mr. McGuinty travelled to Chatham for an unscheduled stop at a Tim Horton's. He was greeted by firefighters and Liberal campaign workers who had taken over the fast-food restaurant.
The city is in the riding of Chatham-Kent-Essex, which is Liberal. But MPP Pat Hoy is not seeking re-election and until a few days ago, the Liberals did not think they had a chance of holding the riding, a Liberal source said
From there, he moved on to Strathroy in another Liberal riding, where he was met by a group protesting wind turbines. Firefighters, who are at virtually all Mr. McGuinty's campaign stops, formed a wall between him and the protestors.
Strathroy is in the riding of Lambton-Kent-Middlesex. The Liberal incumbent, Maria Van Bommel, is in a tight race with the Tories.