05/04/2015 05:41 EDT | Updated 05/04/2016 05:12 EDT

NDP Upsurge In Alberta Is Giving Federal MPs New Hope

OTTAWA - Linda Duncan's phone is ringing off the hook.

For just over six years, she's been the lone Alberta New Democrat in the House of Commons, having taken the riding of Edmonton-Strathcona away from the Conservatives in the 2008 federal election.

But the province is such a bastion of conservatism — home to the prime minister and several key cabinet ministers as well as four decades of provincial Conservative rule — that Duncan's views on the province's political landscape haven't gotten much air time.

Until now.

Polls suggest that the provincial New Democrats are poised to dramatically increase their seat count in Tuesday's elections, if not take over the legislature altogether. People are already calling Duncan to get a start on transferring that support to this fall's federal campaign.

"Alberta won't go all orange, it will take time federally," she said in an interview from Edmonton on Monday.

"But if this is the change in mindset, I think the important thing is people are saying I don't have to be cynical anymore, I don't have to listen to the fearmongering. I can actually make a choice and make a difference."

Most Tories in Ottawa on Monday shrugged off the idea that an NDP provincial victory in Alberta would spur radical change federally in October. They say voters in Alberta haven't suddenly switched ideologies, but are looking at casting protest ballots.

"Forty-four years is a long tenure. Time will tell," said Kevin Sorenson, Conservative MP for Crowfoot, alluding to the Tory tenure in Alberta.

Conservative MP James Rajotte of Edmonton, said his sense is that the Liberals, not the NDP, are the biggest challenge in the federal election.

"I don't know there's too much you can draw from the provincial election and transpose it to the federal," he said.

Brent Rathgeber, a former Edmonton Conservative and now an Independent MP, said there are lessons to learn — among them that federal politicians should not take Albertans for granted.

"People are thinking about this stuff and researching about accountability, about trust, about integrity and considering their options," he said.

"And I think that gives non-Harper aligned candidates some cause for optimism that people in Alberta are not voting as a reflex for the Conservative candidate."

Neither Prime Minister Stephen Harper nor NDP Leader Tom Mulcair have set foot in the province since January, despite having criss-crossed the country several times. Liberal leader Justin Trudeau spent a day in Calgary in February.

More federal Tories, however, have been spotted on the provincial campaign trail than in the last Alberta election, when they were ordered to stay out of what was essentially a fight between two conservative factions.

The Conservatives need to keep the entire spectrum of their base engaged, rather than risk bleeding votes either to the Liberals or the NDP, said Michele Austin, a longtime Conservative strategist at both the provincial and federal level who now works at Summa Strategies.

While the Tories have the tools to know their voters better than anyone, those voters aren't who they used to be and the face-to-face contact is essential, she said.

"The lesson for everyone is Alberta is evolving and changing," she said.

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