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The Conservative leadership race has already started

Click to play video: 'Conservatives enter third leadership race in 6 years' Conservatives enter third leadership race in 6 years
After the Conservative Party of Canada ousted Erin O'Toole as federal leader, the race is on once again for a fresh face to fill the top job. David Akin looks at the candidates likely to run, and the Tories already ruling themselves out. – Feb 3, 2022

The race to replace Erin O’Toole has already begun.

Less than 48 hours after Conservative MPs voted to oust their leader, the party has sold thousands of new memberships, a source told Global News Friday morning.

Read more: O’Toole calls for ‘balance’ as Conservative MPs plunge party into leadership race

Selling memberships is a crucial component to any successful bid for the Conservative leadership, leading some in the party to believe a candidate or candidates are already hard at work.

“In the last 24 to 48 hours, there’s been a significant increase in memberships,” said the source, who agreed to speak about internal party matters on the condition they not be named, in an interview with Global News.

“Somebody is driving that. I don’t care how angry certain elements of the party or the broader movement were at Erin for a host of sins, real or perceived. … Something is pushing that.”

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The source could not say specifically how many new members have signed up since Wednesday’s vote, but said it’s in the “thousands.”

Read more: ‘This is a fracture in the party’: O’Toole to face leadership vote Wednesday

“As we have in all previous leadership contests, the party will release the membership total after the deadline to become an eligible voting member,” has past, wrote Conservative Party director of communications Cory Hann in a statement.

No one has stepped forward to publicly throw their hat in the ring, but multiple sources tell Global News that Patrick Brown, the former Ontario PC leader and mayor of Brampton, has been aggressively working the phones in preparation for a bid.

Pierre Poilievre, the party’s firebrand finance critic and Ottawa-area MP, is also believed to be kicking the tires on a leadership bid after bowing out of the last race.

Leslyn Lewis, the MP for Haldimand-Norfolk who ran a successful outsider campaign in the previous leadership, is considered likely to once again become a social conservative standard-bearer. If not Lewis — or maybe in addition to Lewis — the well-organized social conservative wing is almost certain to field a candidate.

Whichever candidate or candidates are already selling memberships could have a crucial head start whenever the party’s national council officially kicks off the leadership race.

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The party’s Leadership Election Organizing Committee (LEOC) has yet to be struck, but its decisions on the shape of the race could have serious implications for which candidate ends up winning.

Read more: Conservatives’ post-election report gives mixed reviews on O’Toole’s performance: source

A short race is believed to advantage candidates with significant name recognition within the party — like Poilievre, who is as beloved by the Conservative base as he is loathed by Liberals and progressives, and who has a ready-made social media following to blast out campaign messaging.

A longer race would lessen that advantage somewhat, and benefit campaigns with a strong organization that can sell a lot of memberships — like Brown or Lewis, should the social conservative wing rally to her cause.

Members of the party’s national council met Thursday night to begin the process of setting up LEOC. In a statement to party faithful obtained by Global News, party president Rob Batherson said they’ve already received “overwhelming interest” to serve on the powerful leadership committee.

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