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Keeping up with 'Ralph Klein's Brain' -- who will the Love Machine represent?

Everybody knows former Alberta finance minister Ted Morton is the man to beat in Alberta's 2011 Progressive Conservative leadership race. That's what the media tells us, so it must be true!

But never mind that, let's get to the important stuff… Who is the Love Machine backing?

You know, Rod Love, also known as "Ralph's Brain," the political consultant from Yorkton, Sask., by way of Calgary, where he became a waiter at the Keg and later Mayor Ralph Klein's political eminence grise. After Klein became Alberta premier in 1992, Love followed his mentor to important political advisory roles in Edmonton. After that, he founded a highly successful political consultancy, which continues in business to this day.

Yeah! That Rod Love. The Rod Love of Rod Love Consulting Inc.

Surely this is now the burning question for Alberta's political cognoscenti. You've got to know that whomever Love chooses to back is the candidate Freddy Lee Morton should fear the most, right?

Well … maybe…

Just asking, but sterling political reputation, steady employment as an on-air pundit and successful political consultancy notwithstanding, based on his past clients, how good is Love's track record really?

There was Conservative Party leadership candidate Jim Dinning, of course, Alberta's premier presumptive for eons. But Dinning went down before the unknown Ed Stelmach in 2006. Reports are mixed on the likelihood of Dinning making a comeback, but as an heir apparent well past his best-before date, if he does he'll have some challenges to overcome.

And there was Calgary mayoral candidate Barb Higgins, according to the chatter at the time in Cowtown, but she lost to an unknown professor named Naheed Nenshi in 2010…

What's more, we mustn't forget federal Conservative leadership candidate Belinda Stronach back in 2004. Love was the Alberta co-ordinator of Stronach's campaign, which ultimately saw some guy named Stephen Harper emerge triumphant. Remind us, please, whatever happened to that Harper guy?

And there was Rod Love himself, of course, who ran for the Conservatives in the Calgary-Buffalo riding in a by-election way back in July 1992 and … captured 15 per cent of the vote!

That, of course, was five months before Klein took over the reins of the party. Love was beaten by Liberal lawyer named Gary Dickson, who was also a newbie in the race. In fairness, however, Dickson had the advantage of replacing the very popular Liberal Sheldon Chumir, who had died in office earlier that year. So that's not as embarrassing as the fact Love also got thumped by Elaine Husband, the unknown candidate for the NDP, who outpolled him by nearly two to one.

Mind you, we mustn't forget that the Love Machine did capture more votes in that by-election than Joseph Babineau, the candidate for the Confederation of Regions Party.

It couldn't have been the inherently Liberal leanings of Calgary-Buffalo's electorate that caused this result, because by 2001, the Conservative candidate, a retired police officer named Harvey Cenaiko, was able to capture the seat. Cenaiko, by the way, was born in Wakwa, Sask., so there goes the Calgary-voters-hate-Saskatchewanians theory too. (The jury remains out, of course, on how they feel about Californians who come to Alberta by way of Wyoming.)

Love, of course, has had some success too -- some of which, presumably, we may not know about because in political consulting, discretion is often the better part of valour.

From 1992 to 1998, according to very sparse on-line sources, Love served as Premier Klein's chief of staff, and in 2004 he was co-chair of the Conservative party's election campaign. So it would seem reasonable to infer he played a key role in the Conservative general election campaigns of 1993, 1997 and 2004, when the party captured large majorities of 51, 63 and 62 seats.

Interestingly, however, the Tories under Klein and Premier Stelmach did better in the campaigns of 2001 (74 seats) and 2008 (72 seats), years Love presumably did not play quite as big a role.

Of course, there are few cynical political observers who would argue that any of those years should have presented no problem for Ralph's Brain or any other Alberta Conservative strategist.

But then, those are likely the very kind of cynical people who would make the claim that, in fact, Ralph Klein was Ralph's Brain!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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