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Alberta's female leaders and the fight for women's votes

03/28/2012 05:21 EDT | Updated 05/28/2012 05:12 EDT

Albertans are witnessing some history in the making this election — two women are leading the front-running parties, which will likely mean the province will have its first elected female premier.

Political scientists say it also makes for some uncharted territory when it comes to campaign strategies and the female voter.

Retired school administrator Linda Waldron doesn't know how she's going to vote yet, but she has a few issues on her mind.

"My father's 95. I'm concerned about long-term care beds and assisted living and hospitals," she said.

With her concerns about health and social issues, Waldron is the kind of female voter political strategists build their campaigns around.

But Mount Royal professor Lori Williams says this election campaign may challenge some assumptions about women and politics.

"This is untried territory. We haven't seen in Canada this kind of battle or contest for top position before and so all of the things we've noticed about the way women engage in campaigns — the way they behave politically — are going to be tested. I think we're going to be drawing new observations in terms of what we can expect amongst women."

Women have led Alberta parties before, but the province has never had an elected female premier.

'Battle of the sexes'

Williams says historically women have supported candidates closer to the centre of the political spectrum.

She says that would give Tory Leader Alison Redford an edge over the Wildrose Party's Danielle Smith.

However, right now men appear to prefer Smith, pollster Bruce Cameron says. This is a change from six weeks ago, when male voters were split.

"It really will come down to the battle of the sexes, right now PCs are leading among women and Wildrose is leading among men," he said.

The campaign commercials are an indication of who parties are targeting, says Cameron.

The Wildrose ad is aggressive, perhaps aimed at men, while the new PC ad takes a softer approach, focusing on children, an issue that's commonly important to women.

"Some of it is style, some of it is policy, but because of that big gap where women really were rallying behind Alison Redford, I believe that the Wildrose Party saw that and said if we cannot get a lot of women on side let's make sure we get every single male voter in the province," Cameron said.

He believes that's why the WIldrose Party is talking about issues that appeal more to men, such as the .05 drunk driving law, and even property rights.

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