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Leaders turn toward home in tight race

British Columbians will decide Tuesday who will lead the province through the 2010 Olympic Games, the worldwide economic recession and whatever else the next four years might bring.

On the last day of campaigning, the leaders of the province's two major parties made their way toward their home ridings after what has been, at times, a highly personal battle of personalities.

New Democrat Leader Carole James flew to Comox on Vancouver Island on Monday morning, where she planned to travel by bus to Duncan before boarding a train for a final push into Victoria, where she represents the riding of Victoria-Beacon Hill.

During last-ditch campaign stops, James urged British Columbians to take back the province after what she called eight years of arrogant and out-of-touch decisions by the Campbell Liberals.

"The future of our province is at stake in this election," said James.

James was greeted by chants of "take it back" from supporters in Courtenay, B.C., where the NDP would like to steal the seat held by former Liberal cabinet minister Stan Hagen. Hagen died in January.

"Eight years is enough and in just one day we're going to make changes," said James.

The walls of Comox Valley NDP candidate Leslie McNabb's campaign officer were covered with details of every one of the riding's 160 polls.

"This is going to be a nail biter," said NDP volunteer Roger Kisby.

Pollsters are divided over B.C. voter intentions, predicting anywhere from an 11-point lead for the Liberals to a dead heat. A survey by The Canadian Press Harris-Decima suggests there are a large number of undecided voters heading into Tuesday's vote.

Liberal Leader Gordon Campbell attended a noisy rally Monday at the campaign office of candidate Radhia Benalia, where he thanked party workers for their support.

He told the crowd that the most important thing they could do now is vote, and he urged supporters to get on the phones and on the doorsteps and get the vote out.

Campbell, who represents the Vancouver-Point Grey riding, is seeking his third term as premier and he expressed confidence as the campaign wound down.

The Liberal leader said Monday low voter turnout is the battle for the Liberals at this point.

"I think clearly the New Democrats did much better than we did in 2005 in getting their vote out. So it's very important for people to know this isn't a time where you can say someone else will take care of this job for me. It's a time when they have to answer the question who is best to lead us through these challenging times," Campbell said at one of his final campaign stops.

"They certainly do a good job of getting all their vote out. So one of the things we have to do is make sure we get the people who say they support us out to vote so we can offset that."

Campbell kicked off the campaign last month by telling British Columbians they were facing the most important decision of a generation.

Nearly every poll found that the economy was the top issue on the minds of voters – a fact the Liberals used as a major weapon in their campaign for re-election, portraying themselves as sound managers with a record of success.

The New Democrats simply said the Campbell Liberals had eight years and still couldn't find time to raise the minimum wage, fight child poverty or make life easier for senior citizens _ and now unemployment numbers are rising.

It was a largely predictable campaign for a set-date election, but there were some surprises.

The biggest was the cabinet resignation of former solicitor general John van Dongen after he revealed he lost his driver's licence for too many speeding tickets. As solicitor general and public safety minister, van Dongen was the province's top traffic cop and he lead several government safe-driving campaigns.

Van Dongen did not drop out of the campaign and is likely to be returned to the legislature.

But a rookie Vancouver New Democrat candidate did quit after racy photos from his Facebook page became public.

The messy divorce of Vancouver Island New Democrat Doug Routley made news, and Liberal candidate Marc Dalton apologized for a homophobic email he sent years ago.

Dirk Meissner and Terri Theodore report for The Canadian Press.

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