TORONTO - Ontario's Liberals and Progressive Conservatives would have voters believe that they're the only ones on the ballot in the June 12 election, relegating the New Democrats to the ranks of insignificant fringe parties.
The fight for strategic votes got underway in earnest Wednesday after the blackout on political ads was lifted, flooding the airwaves with commercials aimed at attracting voters outside of their traditional base of support to win a majority government.
While touring Ontario's manufacturing heartland, Premier Kathleen Wynne stuck to her message that the real choice voters face is her party's compassionate, sensible approach to growing the economy and creating jobs, or calamitous Conservative cuts that would plunge the province back into recession.
The NDP? Well, they don't even matter, she said.
"Every time Andrea Horwath introduces a kind of non-sequitur, an idea that floats out there on its own, it further makes her irrelevant to the very serious challenges that we're confronting," she said while visiting the Toyota plant in Cambridge, Ont.
"There are no simple one-off solutions to the challenges we're confronting."
It's a time-honoured tradition for the Liberals to target NDP voters, painting their party as the only one that can stop the Conservatives from taking power, said Henry Jacek, a political science professor at Hamilton's McMaster University.
The Liberals are fighting a war on two fronts, with the Tories trying to eat up their support on the right end of the political spectrum and the NDP attacking on the left, he said. So they're stoking fears over Tory plans to cut costs and public sector jobs to help win over NDP voters, telling them they could elect the Tories by default if they divide the centre-left vote.
Wynne often reminds voters on the campaign trail that the election was called because the NDP didn't support her budget, saying it contained measures NDP voters wanted, such as increasing the minimum wage and increasing wages for personal support workers and early childhood educators.
Party officials have also fired out quotes from disgruntled NDP supporters, who say leader Andrea Horwath has lost her way.
"I think that's a pretty intense competition, and I think as we go along, the animosity between the Liberals and NDP will grow," Jacek said.
Hudak has also largely ignored the New Democrats in his stump speeches, framing the election as a chance for voters to elect a competent economic manager capable of creating more jobs.
"This is a single-issue election: What leader has the best plan to get more people working in the province of Ontario and make government work better for you?" Hudak said in Cobourg, Ont.,
"If we have more people working, we have more people paying taxes, and that means that we have the revenue coming in."
The Tories want to divide the left-leaning vote to improve their chances of forming a government, Jacek said. So they're taking a lesson from the 1999 election, which saw then-premier Mike Harris re-elected even though many voters didn't like his controversial cuts.
"But he painted himself as a strong, decisive leader, and that allowed him to win a majority," Jacek said.
New Democrats, on the other hand, are diving deeper into political history — nearly a century — with an "audacious" strategy to attract working-class Conservatives — voters who also tend to make their decision late in the campaign, he said.
Party strategists say they're targeting undecided voters — who they believe will decide the outcome of the election — and have their eye on Tories who don't like Hudak.
To that end, the party toasted the end of the media blackout with a wraparound ad on the cover of the Toronto Sun, a populist conservative tabloid, disparaging Hudak's and Wynne's policies as "nonsense" and portraying Horwath as a leader who "makes sense."
The NDP's use of the word "sense" in their campaign slogan harks back to Harris's "Common Sense Revolution" platform in 1995, which vaulted the third party leader into the premier's office, Jacek said.
They want to woo blue-collar Tories with a tougher message, such as Horwath's promise to appoint a minister to cut costs in government, he said.
Britain's Labour Party went after Tory voters nearly a century ago, but it took them about 25 years to win them over, Jacek said. The NDP want to do it in a few weeks.
"They're trying that gambit," he said. "The jury's out whether that's going to work, but they also want to basically keep the voters that they have the last time, those swing group ... that were unhappy with Dalton McGuinty."
Horwath has cast her party as a better alternative to the Liberals, reminding voters about the spending scandals Wynne inherited from the former premier, including the cancellation of two gas plants that could cost up to $1.1 billion.
The NDP would "focus on fundamentals," not slash jobs like the Conservatives, Horwath said at a library in Brampton. They'd also bring trust back to government, unlike the Liberals who are mired in scandal.
"It takes focusing on people's priorities by investing tax dollars in appropriate ways, and respecting those tax dollars," she said.
Also on HuffPost