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Oppal clinging to a two-vote lead

Globe and Mail Update

VANCOUVER — B.C. Attorney General Wally Oppal is clinging to a scant two-vote margin in the suburban Delta South riding, guaranteeing a recount — and threatening to extinguish one of the stars of Gordon Campbell's cabinet.

With all polls reporting, Mr. Oppal holds a minuscule lead over independent Vicki Huntington, 42.6 per cent to 42.5 per cent. The NDP and Greens placed a distant third and fourth.

Mr. Oppal switched ridings to face off against Ms. Huntington, who otherwise was headed for an easy win in Delta South, where residents were angered by several government decisions, including a long-simmering controversy over power transmission lines.

The attorney general has been one of the most visible public faces of the Campbell government, but his political celebrity has not translated into an easy win — and may still end up in a loss.

At a Delta hotel, supporters initially cheered each time updated results for the riding were posted on a television screen at the front of the room. Those cheers turned to groans of shocked dismay when results showed the margin was shrinking.

In the early part of Tuesday evening, Mr. Oppal said he was prepared for a tight race but said he hoped voters would come down on the side of a strong voice in cabinet.

"My opponent had no policies, but was really running on anti-government bias," Mr. Oppal told reporters.

Mr. Oppal wooed voters with the promise that he would be a strong voice in cabinet, compared with an Independent candidate who would have no power in Victoria.

Mr. Oppal, known for his folksy appeal, was appointed to the County Court of B.C. in 1981, to the Supreme Court of B.C. in 1985 and to the B.C. Court of Appeal in 2003.

He left the bench in 2005 to run for office, in the process taking a hefty pay cut and setting himself up for periodic thumpings in B.C.'s bruising political ring.

He was dubbed "Stonewally" for his refusal to discuss the long-running BC Rail case because it is before the courts. And he was pummelled by critics in connection with this year's rash of gun and gang-related violence in the Lower Mainland, which has left more than 20 people dead.

In February, the Liberals announced funding for 168 new police officers and 10 new prosecutors to fight gang crime. Mr. Oppal also travelled to Ottawa to press for changes to the criminal code.

Named attorney-general in 2005, Mr. Oppal also brought a festering issue in British Columbia to a turning point this past January by announcing polygamy charges against two religious leaders in Bountiful.

Ms. Huntington capitalized on a litany of complaints and resentments among Delta voters, including port and road expansions, with the slogan,

"Where was Wally?"

Early this month, Mr. Campbell made a campaign stop in Mr. Oppal's riding and promised, if elected, to build a $17.5-million National Soccer Development Centre in Delta. In this decade, two Liberals quit the party to sit as Independents. The last person to be elected in B.C. as an Independent candidate was James Mowat, in 1949, in the Vancouver Island riding of Alberni.

The riding shaped up as a horse race from the beginning of the campaign, with the high-profile Mr. Oppal squaring off against a candidate who'd been expected to notch an easy win.

A five-time Delta councillor, Ms. Huntington tapped into voters' anger over several key issues, including the construction of power lines through Tsawwassen backyards.

Both the Liberals and the NDP courted Ms. Huntington but she turned them down.

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