The Parti Québécois said it needed a strong mandate from Quebecers to deliver its recipe for change, and work towards sovereignty.
Throughout the campaign, PQ Leader Pauline Marois hammered away at that message.
She pressed her supporters for a majority she said was urgent to achieve her party goals — to bring in stricter language laws, a secular charter, and move the sovereignty agenda ahead.
On Tuesday night, Marois made history, becoming Quebec's first woman premier — but she fell short of a majority.
Now facing two opposition parties at the national assembly, and leading a slim minority, Marois has her work cut out.
PQ rallies around hardline supporters
From day one in this campaign, the PQ set out to position itself as an agent of change for Quebec. The party hoped to capitalize on historically low voter satisfaction rates with the ruling Liberal Party.
But in the five weeks the Péquistes faced off against the struggling Liberals, and the untested Coalition Avenir Québec, it never got close to the 40 per cent of voter intentions needed to form a majority, polling instead around 32 or 33 per cent.
Marois appealed to hardline Péquistes by promising to expand language Bill 101 and limit access to English CEGEP colleges.
She also championed the PQ's secular identity charter, that would bar religious symbols in public places except for the cross. The PQ also talked of citizenship tests for new immigrants to the province.
The party reached out to student voters, promising to repeal scheduled tuition increases and Quebec's emergency Bill 78.
But it alienated allophone and anglophone voters, despite Marois' assertion the party respects minority language rights. The PQ leader refused to grant English interviews to anglophone news stations (with the exception of CBC.)
Quebec sovereignty rises up
The PQ's slim lead in the latter half of the campaign has raised the spectre of a possible sovereignty referendum.
For years the sovereigntists' dream for a third vote on secession has been out of reach — two past PQ premiers refused to midwife another referendum, after 1995's slim No victory.
Marois repeatedly raised the question of another sovereignty vote, while remaining vague on the when and how.
In her one-on-one televised campaign debate with Liberal Leader Jean Charest, she said a referendum would be necessary at the moment it is necessary.
She later said she'd only allow a referendum if the conditions were right — despite supporting the PQ-endorsed citizen referendum initiative (known as RIP), that would allow five per cent of the population to demand a vote.
A Marois-led PQ will try to lay the groundwork for a renewed sovereignty debate by taking on Ottawa on a case-by-case policy basis.
Marois has said she'll ask the federal government for greater control in areas such as foreign policy, copyright law and insurance employment.
Any refusal, the PQ argues, is fodder in its slow push towards independence.
But how far Marois will get remains to be seen, as she prepares to lead a minority government.