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Why Caroline Mulroney has the most at stake in PC leadership debate

Why Caroline Mulroney has the most at stake in PC leadership debate
From CBC - February 15, 2018

There is much more on the line in today'sOntario PC leadership debate than there typically is for such an event.

Caroline Mulroney, Doug Ford and Christine Elliott will go head-to-head Thursday afternoon, in the first of only two debates scheduled before Progressive Conservatives begin voting for their new leader on March 2.

It is not yet clear whether a fourth candidate, TanyaGranicAllen, will participate.

The lightning-quick timeline of the PC leadership contestand the imminence of an election in June put an added spotlightonthis debate.

"As soon as this race is over, the starting gun goes off for the provincial election," saidconservative political strategist Jaime Watt, executive chairman of crisis communications firm Navigator."The proximity of the election heightens everything."

And the candidate who will getthe most scrutiny is almost certainly the one who has spent the least time in the public eye.

"Thepressure will be particularly on Caroline Mulroney," saidWatt in an interview Wednesday with CBCNews. "She knows what she's got to do;she's got to prove herself."

"She's the least seasoned," said Marcel Wieder, president of Aurora Strategy Group, a political communications firm with ties to the Ontario Liberals.

"This will be the first real opportunity for people to see her in a bear-pit situation," said Wieder. "We have already seen her give lacklustre responses to interviews, so no one knows how she's going to respond under fire."

While Mulroney is poised and articulate in conversation, many PCs are questioning how she would fare in the heat of an election campaign debate against Premier Kathleen Wynneand NDP leader Andrea Horwath.

"I do not question her intelligence," said aparty insider who's supporting Elliott. "But is she ready to lead?"

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