Toronto’s mayoral election landscape shifted on two fronts on Wednesday, first with the release of a new poll that showed George Smitherman and Rob Ford in a dead heat and later with the announcement that trailing candidate Rocco Rossi was bowing out of the race.
The poll, conducted by Ipsos Reid for Newstalk 1010, gave Mr. Smitherman, the former provincial Liberal Cabinet minister, 31% of popular support, just ahead of Councillor Rob Ford at 30%. Deputy mayor Joe Pantalone garnered 11%, while Mr. Rossi managed only 4%, prompting him to announce later in the evening, in a campaign headquarters packed with supporters, that his candidacy was over.
“This is obviously a difficult decision,” Mr. Rossi said, fighting back tears. He added that he felt it was clear the pursuit of the mayoralty had developed into a two-way race between, as he put it, “those who want to stop what Mr. Ford describes as ‘the gravy train’, and those that want to stop Mr. Ford.”
“I don’t want to distract from Torontonians taking a very close look at the front-runners, asking the very tough questions and demanding tough solutions for Toronto.”
Mr. Rossi did not endorse anyone, but urged voters to “vote for something, not against someone” on Oct. 25.
In a statement, Mr. Smitherman commended Mr. Rossi’s “unbridled optimism,”his bold ideas and wished him well.
A lifelong Liberal and former CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Ontario, Mr. Rossi crafted a more conservative platform that called for the sale of Toronto Hydro to pay off the debt, shunned tax cuts and promised to give voters the ability to recall their politicians. Having courted controversy with mobster-themed ads and a tunnel under the city, Mr. Rossi earned kudos for his financial plan.
But he continued to languish in the polls. He said on Wednesday his internal polling suggests most of his support would go to Mr. Ford. Earlier this week, six former Rossi organizers endorsed Mr. Smitherman; his high-profile Conservative co-chair John Capobianco has said in the past he would likely side with Mr. Ford, but on Wednesday declined to comment.
“It’s going to be a lot closer than people think,” John Wright, Ipsos Reid pollster, said. The poll released on Wednesday shows that Mr. Smitherman has a bigger lead among people “committed to go out and vote,” with 38% support over Mr. Ford’s 32%. Mr. Pantalone has 15% of committed voters.
Ipsos surveyed 400 randomly selected adults between Oct. 8 to 10 and says its findings have a margin of error +/- 4.9%.
One quarter of voters remain undecided.
Especially in a municipal election where voter turnout traditionally hovers around 40%, “it’s going to come down to who actually energizes the vote to get them out,” said Mr. Wright.
Mr. Ford surged into the lead over the summer months on a well oiled message about “wasteful spending” at City Hall that has become the dominant theme of the mayoral race.
A poll of more than 1,000 people conducted by Nanos Research mid September showed him 24 points ahead of Mr. Smitherman among decided voters. Ipsos’ previous survey two weeks ago gave him a 5 point lead. “Rob Ford has a group of supporters who are very committed to him and his message, but they’re not the most motivated people to go and actually vote,” said Mr. Wright. “I don’t think he peaked too soon. I just think people thought that he was going to win in a walk and as a result he’s got another job to do which is motivate people to get out and vote, not just motivate about the issues.”
Mr. Smitherman, who has been rallying a “stop Rob Ford” movement, does not enjoy the same kind of devotion, said Mr. Wright, but the drive among his supporters to vote appears more powerful.
“There’s nothing but hard work ahead,” Mr. Smitherman said, reacting to the poll. “We’ve got some momentum.”
Mr. Ford minimized the poll results before they were released. “The only poll that matters is the one on election day. Record numbers of people are turning out at the advance polls which is good, and people are starting to get engaged in municipal politics,” he said following a speech at the Toronto Board of Trade.
Mr. Pantalone said he was “unfazed”; he said Ipsos Reid “has always underestimated my support” and he’s urged by fans to stick with it to the end.
Mr. Rossi said he is devoted to a life in “public service” but does not know if that will be pursuing elected office.
He refused to tell his supporters who they should vote for. “I’ve quite frankly been offended by some of the efforts in various quarters to try to herd people as opposed to tell people why they should vote for one candidate or another, not try to drive people through fear to one place or another.”
Rocco Rossi drops out of mayoral raceIn Canada on October 14, 2010 at 12:27