Also lurking around was Nepean-Carleton MP and general sleezebag Pierre Poilievre:
I talked to Hudak a little bit, we discussed the situation in Mississauga South last election (Hudak was not a fan of what happened), and thinks that the traditionally Tory riding is very winnable. The introduction MacLeod and Baird gave was pretty standard stuff, true conservative yadda yadda, need to stop McGuinty, etc. Hudak's stump speech was good on rhetoric, and short on policy (although given the relative youth of the race, I'm not going to fault him on that, although I heard some grumbling talking to people around the room that only Hillier has released any real policies) and was generally energetic. Perhaps as a sign that Hudak is going to try and pursue the Red Tory vote currently being courted by Elliot as opposed to the rural and social conservative vote, his speech was mostly focused on economic rhetoric, attacking the Liberals on all the standard lines, but omitting any "culture war" style phrasing.
With Hudak as the consensus frontrunner, I tried to get the feel of the room for other candidates (albeit, not everyone in the room was a committed Hudakite, I talked to people who were leaning but not sold, genuine undecideds, and declared Hillier supporters). The general consensus is that Hillier is the candidate who could give Hudak the best run for his money. More then a couple people expressed concern that with so many "establishment" people coming out for Hudak (he has the support of at least 2 federal cabinet ministers, Baird and Nicholson, more then half the provincial caucus, and many Harris-era operators) that Hillier could focus his populist rage entirely on Hudak and if not win, then at least have to have his segment of the party recognized by giving Hillier a high-profile critics position and throw some populist planks in the platform. Elliot was seen as credible, but not a serious contender given her complex ties to Jim Flaherty, and the potential awkwardness of campaigning on the tax harmonization her husband pushed for, and her lack of a high-profile in the House. Frank Klees was largely dismissed, and a number of people suggested he might drop out before the convention.
From what I could tell, the Hudak people are not as worried as Hudak being the "inevitable" candidate, the label that helped sink Hillary Clinton, for a number of reasons. First, the relatively short length of the campaign means Hudak's already battle-ready ground team should be able to hold its own even if Hillier goes for an Obamaesqe massive membership sign-up. Second, the points system somewhat limits the room for growth for insurgent candidates. Hillier could sign up tons of new members in rural ridings, but ultimately, with every riding being worth the same number of points, the number of new members signed up is not as important as in other systems. Third, the Hudak campaign believes that it is the only campaign that will have cross-regional appeal. They expect to do very well in Southern Ontario and the 905 belt (which will have the bulk of the seats and voting points) can run with Elliot in the 416, and will be able to hold their own in rural and Eastern Ontario, Hillier's perceived stronghold. Fourth, with the preferential ballot system, they think they could be the beneficiaries of an "Anyone but Hillier" movement, should Hillier pick up more steam then expected, particularly from Elliot voters. Basically, if they aren't going to be your first choice, they will probably be your second, while Hillier is anything but a compromise candidate.
Overall, it was an interesting look at Hudak's campaign, and I do have to say, if I was a PC party member, I would probably vote for him.