The national story heading into the federal election campaign’s final stretch is the NDP surge flowing from Jack Layton’s strong performance in the debates, particularly in Quebec, the fading of the Liberals, and the Conservatives coming just within range of a possible majority.

With a possible majority in reach, every seat counts, and both Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff travelled to Atlantic Canada late last week hoping to pick up a few new seats and seeking to protect vulnerable ones. In the region, which has a total of 32 seats, a handful of key riding races are being closely watched and contested.

Newfoundland & Labrador – Eastern Promises

In Newfoundland and Labrador, the Conservatives are hoping to win in Avalon, St. John’s East, and St. John’s South-Mount Pearl after their 2008 federal election showing when they were shut out in the province thanks to wildly popular Premier Danny Williams’ “Anybody but Conservatives” campaign. This year, the Conservatives are hoping better relations with new Premier Kathy Dunderdale and a promise of $4.2 billion in federal loan guarantees for the Lower Churchill transmission project to generate and transmit electricity to Nova Scotia and the New England market will be enough to return some seats to the Conservative fold.

Nova Scotia – Battle in Bridgewater

In Nova Scotia, attention is focused on Bridgewater. Although Nova Scotia has historically tended to favour incumbents with fairly low turnover, the NDP are hoping to make gains in Bridgewater where Conservative incumbent Gerald Keddy won his seat in 2008 by only 932 votes over Gordon Earle who is running again for the NDP. The NDP is hoping the election of a provincial NDP government in Nova Scotia since the last federal election will help to sway the tide this time.

PEI – On the Edge

In PEI, which has traditionally voted Liberal in the last several elections, the Liberals are hoping to retake the riding of Edgemont and sweep all four seats in the province. Last week Mr Ignatieff made his only PEI campaign stop to show support for Liberal candidate Guy Gallant, a Political Science Professor at UPEI who is running against Conservative candidate and incumbent Gail Shea. Although Ms. Shea won her seat by just 55 votes in the 2008 election, she has served two years as Federal Minister of Fisheries and Oceans, which has increased her popularity in the riding.

New Brunswick – A River Runs Through It

In New Brunswick, long-time city councilor and Saint John deputy mayor Stephen Chase is hoping to unseat Conservative incumbent Rodney Weston who won the Saint John riding in 2008 by less than 500 votes. A former provincial cabinet minister and chief of staff to former Premier Bernard Lord, Mr. Weston recently delivered on one of his 2008 election promises when Ottawa and the Province reached a deal to remove the tolls on Saint John’s Harbour bridge. The race is tight, and with NDP Leader Jack Layton touching down in Saint John on Monday to support local NDP candidate and UNBSJ Economics Professor Rob Moir, it could be a three-way race.

In Fredericton, the Conservatives are hoping to stave off Liberal challenger and local radio talk show host Randy McKeen and return Keith Ashfield to power. A former provincial cabinet minister in the Lord government, Mr. Ashfield has held responsibility for Canada Revenue Agency, the Atlantic Gateway and the economic development agency ACOA. Up in the northern part of the Province, former Mulroney-era minister and former provincial Progressive Conservative party leader Bernard Valcourt is attempting to make a comeback in the riding of Madawaska-Restigouche.

As the national election narrative continues to evolve, none of the federal parties are taking anything for granted in the East as races in these key ridings go down to the wire.

Daniel Goodwin was the vice president of Hill+Knowlton’s public affairs group in Ottawa. He is no longer with the company.