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Votes Counted in Special Poll Pitting Cameron Vs. Clegg

U.K. Special Election Pits Cameron, Clegg Against Each Other
Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Paddy Ashdown, left, speaks with a woman in a wheelchair as he campaigns for Liberal Democrat candidate Mike Thornton, second right, in the by-election in Eastleigh. Photographer: Matt Cardy/Getty Images

Votes are being counted after a special election to the House of Commons in the southern English town of Eastleigh that has pitted the two parties in the U.K.’s ruling coalition against each other.

A result is due to be announced at about 2 a.m. local time tomorrow in the seat, which has been held by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats since 1994. Clegg needs a victory to demonstrate to his supporters that his decision to go into government with Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservatives hasn’t destroyed their electoral chances.

Meanwhile, Cameron must show his Tories, who came second in Eastleigh in 2010, that they can take such districts from Clegg’s party, their best shot of staying in government after the 2015 general election.

“Under normal circumstances, you’d expect the Lib Dems to hold Eastleigh: it’s a Liberal fiefdom,” Andrew Russell, professor of politics at Manchester University, said in an interview. “They’re now finding that, as a party of government, it’s harder to play the protest vote card they used to use.”

The last opinion poll in the seat, published two days ago, put the Liberal Democrats on course to win, with 33 percent of the vote against the Conservatives’ 28 percent. It put the U.K. Independence Party, which campaigns for Britain to leave the European Union and has never won a seat in Parliament, at 21 percent, ahead of the main opposition Labour Party, at 12 percent. There were 14 candidates in all for today’s election.

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