The vote to select the first elected leader of the United Conservative Party began Thursday. Three candidates are in the running to lead the UCP: Former Wildrose Party leader Brian Jean, former Progressive Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney, and Calgary lawyer Doug Schweitzer.

It is a race political expert Duane Bratt said will be tough to call.

“Originally I thought Jason Kenney in a cakewalk, but Brian Jean has put up a pretty good fight,” said Bratt, a professor at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

On Wednesday in Calgary, Jean announced an endorsement from former NHL player, Theoren Fleury. Almost simultaneously, Kenney sent out a press release stating he received the endorsement of 23 current Alberta Members of Parliament.

The race has been clean, for the most part. The two frontrunners have engaged in minimal bouts of verbal jousting. The UCP, still very much in its infancy, does not have defined political policies.  But Kenney and Jean have agreed on a common enemy.

“Their policy appears to be get rid of the NDP and get rid of anything the NDP has ever done,” Bratt said.

Meanwhile, the NDP will be watching the vote closely. Multiple polls have said no matter who wins Saturday’s leadership vote, the UCP will be a threat in the next provincial election.

“I imagine someone will fill me in on what happens,” said Premier Rachel Notley when asked if she’ll be monitoring the vote during a public appearance Wednesday in Edmonton.

“I haven’t gone out to buy extra popcorn yet.”

Bratt had some insight as two which candidate the governing party might want to see come out victorious.

“I think [the NDP] wasn’t Kenney to win. I think they see Kenney as a more divisive figure and basically (in the next election) you end up with a right vs. left battle,” Bratt said.

For his last campaign stop in Edmonton Tuesday, Jean held a press conference in front of Premier Rachel Notley’s constituency office in Edmonton-Strathcona. Jean stated some members of the UCP refer to the area as, “the heart of darkness for Alberta conservatives”, and suggested NDP ridings are vulnerable. He billed himself as the party’s only shot at victory in the 2019 provincial election.

“All of the major polls in this province have indicated that I am the most popular political leader,” Jean said.

Fellow frontrunner, Jason Kenney, also held a campaign rally in Edmonton on Tuesday evening. Kenney was elected leader of the former Progressive Conservative Party shortly before the Wildrose and PC approved a merger in late July. Kenney has focused his campaign on his political track record, reminding supporters he was the architect of the “Unite the Right” movement in Alberta.

“One way or another, I’ll be happy with the outcome, because we’ve created a movement,” Kenney said.

Voting starts at 9 a.m. Thursday, and wraps up at 5 p.m. Saturday, October 28. Party members can vote online or by phone.