Leadership hopefuls Sandra Pupatello (left) and Kathleen Wynne share a laugh during the debate for the leadership of the Ontario Liberal Party
Credits: ERNEST DOROSZUK/QMI AGENCY
"I was just delighted, I really was," said Pupatello, who now leads the race with 504 delegates, despite downplaying her chances ahead of voting.
"Going in you fear being the frontrunner, so I wanted to make sure I really wasn't seen as that."
Wynne, with 463 delegates, has the opposite problem -- talked up ahead of voting but behind in the counting -- but was similarly pleased.
"Our team is doing very well and I'm thrilled to be where I am," she said.
"I'm happy to be going into the convention in second. It's a good place to be."
The two women now top the field and have put some distance between the four men chasing them, but are keenly aware anything can happen on the convention floor.
About 1,800 delegates were elected over the weekend through Liberal riding associations, youth clubs and university clubs. Another 500 ex-officio delegates drawn from MPPs, defeated candidates and other Liberal insiders will make up the rest of the 2,300 who will choose a replacement for Premier Dalton McGuinty.
Even Wynne has said Pupatello is ahead in the ex-officio count, so her win on the weekend has given her a big boost ahead of the Jan. 25-27 convention.
"The team just pulled out all the stops," Pupatello said, adding having entered the race three weeks after Wynne she had to scramble to catch up.
"The whole Liberal party needs to see that I can put together a real fiery team because they know that's what's required if I win."
To Pupatello, it's all about winning the next provincial election -- something she argues she's in the best position to do.
"I want my party to have the best leader to go up against Hudak and Horwath, end of story," Pupatello said.
"As much as people want to talk about their policy piece that's important to them, the still overriding question I get in every region is how are we going to win this next election?"
Standings going into the convention are Pupatello 504, Wynne 463, Gerard Kennedy 257, Harinder Takhar 244, Charles Sousa 198, Eric Hoskins 104 and independent 67.