By Tim Montgomerie
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Last night the Eastleigh Conservatives re-adopted Maria Hutchings as their candidate for the by-election. Grant Shapps described her as a "mum of four who lives locally". You can read all about Maria on her Vote4Maria website and you can also follow her on Twitter. Most importantly you can get involved in helping her to win.
Yesterday Paul Goodman argued that David Cameron needed to win Eastleigh and a new poll from Lord Ashcroft suggests that the Conservatives enjoy a slender 3% lead in the seat vacated by Chris Huhne. You can read Lord Ashcroft's commentary on the poll here. His conclusion is that the race is far too close to call. We may have a 3% local lead but (i) the Lib Dems have a very good local organisation and (ii) they also will be aiming to convince a large chunk of Labour voters to vote Lib Dem in order to keep the Tory out. The encouraging news for the Conservatives is that the people of Eastleigh are very positive about David Cameron and some of our key messages:
- Asked to choose between having David Cameron continuing as PM or Ed Miliband becoming PM 67% want David Cameron and only 21% want Ed Miliband.
- By 57% to 25% all voters prefer Cameron and Osborne to manage the economny than Miliband and Balls. The advantage widens slightly to 59% to 23% when the choice is between Cameron, Osborne and Clegg and Miliband and Balls.
- Many Labour voters in Eastleigh prefer the Tory approach to issues than the Lib Dem approach. Labour voters who don't choose the Labour Party as the best party on a particular issue choose the Conservatives on five issues as better than the Lib Dems (eg cutting the deficit, dealing with crime and defending Britain's interests in Europe) while they only prefer the LibDems on three issues including protecting the environment.
The poll finds that the Lib Dems have three big strengths as the campaign gets underway:
- 67% agree that "Lib Dems do a good job locally";
- 59% seem to agree that the Lib Dems are the nice party, agreeing with the statement that Clegg's party has decent principles and spends less time attacking opponents [I make no comment!];
- 58% agree that "In government, the Lib Dems have achieved some good things that would not otherwise have happened, or stopped some bad things happening that the Conservatives wanted to do".
Clegg's party also has two big weaknesses in the eyes of more than half of the electorate:
- 64% agreed that the Lib Dems used to be a principled party even if they were powerless, but they’ve deliberately compromised those principles for a share of power;
- 56% agree that the Lib Dems have proved that coalitions don't really work with one party always trying to obstruct the other.
Lord Ashcroft also asked who Eastleigh's voters EXPECTED to win. On that answer, at least, there was a clear win for the Liberal Democrats:
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