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Ford has narrow lead, but soft Pantalone support could tip scales toward Smitherman

Toronto mayoral candidate Joe Pantalone talks to the Globe and Mail editorial board, Oct. 14, 2010.

Deborah Baic/Deborah Baic / The Globe and Mail

Rob Ford has a slight edge in Toronto's two-horse mayoral race with a week to go until election day, according to a new poll that also suggests support for third-place contender Joe Pantalone is stagnant and soft.

A Nanos Research poll for The Globe and Mail, CTV and CP24 conducted after Rocco Rossi quit last week found that 43.9 per cent of decided voters support Rob Ford, 40.5 per cent support George Smitherman and 15 per cent support Joe Pantalone.

Support for Mr. Ford and Mr. Smitherman is much more firm than support for Mr. Pantalone, the poll also found.

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The share of undecided voters has fallen from 25 per cent in mid-September to 18.5 per cent, according to the poll of 1,000 very likely Toronto voters carried out Oct. 14-16.

The shape of the contest has changed dramatically since Nanos last asked Torontonians about the election Sept. 14-16.

The momentum is clearly with Mr. Smitherman, who appears to have captured the lion's share of support from Mr. Rossi and another former candidate, Sarah Thomson.

Mr. Smitherman's support has nearly doubled from 21.3 per cent a month ago, while Mr. Ford and Mr. Pantalone have both seen their support slip, though not by much, from 45.8 per cent for Mr. Ford and 16.8 per cent for Mr. Pantalone.

"The anti-Ford forces have found a place to rally," Nik Nanos, the president of Nanos Research, said. "I think the spectre of a possible Ford victory in September galvanized many voters ... and as a result started changing the dynamics of the race."

The two-horse race is consistent with the results of polls by Ipsos-Reid and Forum Research released in the last week.

Mr. Nanos said one of the biggest questions now is what happens to Mr. Pantalone's support.

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The poll found that fewer than half of Mr. Pantalone's fans are sure they'll cast a ballot for him on Oct. 25.

Just over 70 per cent of Mr. Ford's backing is firm and 64.8 per cent of Mr. Smitherman's support is firm; but only 47.5 per cent of Mr. Pantalone's support is firm, the poll concludes.

"He could end up being the spoiler or the kingmaker," Mr. Nanos said. "He's in a bit of a tough spot. He could either step out of the race and probably have a good chance of pushing Smitherman over the top. Or he could stay in the race and probably bleed support to Mr. Smitherman and have quite a poor showing."

Mr. Pantalone's campaign manager, John Laschinger, said Sunday that his candidate has no intention of exiting the race.

"That question is so insulting," he said. "It is so misguided. This man has put 10 months and his career on the line, and his reputation - and to say that eight days before an election is an insult."

The Pantalone camp is holding a rally of leaders from the "politics, labour and social movements" on Monday morning to build some excitement among the candidate's base as the final week of the race begins. Mr. Laschinger said donations continue to roll in and the campaign is planning a final volley of advertising as well.

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Mr. Smitherman said it wasn't his place to call for the veteran city councillor to withdraw from the race. "But I'm appealing to the people that were thinking about voting for him to make clear to them that at this point a vote for Joe Pantalone is a vote for Rob Ford," he said.

Meanwhile, Justin Trudeau will be speaking on Mr. Smitherman's behalf Monday night.

Before bowing out last week, Mr. Rossi said repeatedly that his internal polling showed supporters would migrate to Mr. Ford. The poll results, however, suggest the Etobicoke councillor hasn't gained from Mr. Rossi's withdrawal.

Instead, Mr. Ford's overall support has withered - but only a touch - under the critical assault from his opponents and from pundits who panned his platform as little more than a collection of soundbites about stopping the gravy train.

His base, however, appears unmoved by the criticism.

"We've got a solid base of support. People have been saying that. I've had a lot of people call me and say they've already voted in the advance polls," Mr. Ford said Sunday.

The tight race could come down to which campaign has the best get-out-the-vote organization, Mr. Nanos said.

"I think it's all going to come down to organization: door by door, street by street, neighbourhood by neighbourhood," he said. "That's the big unknown."

The poll has a margin of error of 3.1 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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