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Smith's slim margin of victory suggests a challenge for the Alberta election

While Danielle Smith, the new leader of the Alberta UCP, did come away with a victory Thursday night, it didn't happen until the final ballot was tallied.

Political experts say a situation like that suggests she will have a tough time in the upcoming election.

"It was a bit of a squeaker. There were some real shocked faces in the room when the first ballot came in and she was below 44, 43, 41 per cent – was a bit of a shocker," said ThinkHQ's Marc Henry in an interview with CTV Calgary Morning Live on Friday.

"You knew it was going to be perhaps a longer night than you expected."

Henry says with about 230 days to go before an election, the UCP "jettisoned" a leader with 51 per cent support and then installed a new leader with just 54 per cent approval.

"It doesn't exactly scream 'unity.' Danielle Smith has a pretty significant task ahead of her, trying to bring that party back together and in a very short period of time," he said.

Henry says the UCP was built on one premise – to defeat the NDP in an election – so it's natural that a lot of their thinking doesn't connect.

"They were sewn together for electoral purposes. So, it's a fairly young party in that sense – they don't have a lot of history."

He adds some of the viewpoints that Smith touched on in her victory speech were appealing to UCP voting members, but might be less palatable by a wider range of Albertans.

"(They) would be seen as more extreme views to the mainstream of the electorate. At some point, she is going to have to tailor her message to capture a broader audience."

Henry says Calgary will be "the battleground" for Smith in next year's election and while her rhetoric may work in some communities, it likely won't there.

"It's going to come down to Calgary to decide who will be government in the next election – there are a lot of seats here. So, it's very important to both the NDP and the UCP that they capture the majority of seats in Calgary."

According to data, there are approximately 124,000 registered members of the Alberta UCP and about 83,000 cast ballots were cast in the leadership vote.

Smith claimed victory, and the office of Alberta's premier, with just 53.8 per cent or about 45,000 ballots.

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