Voters in a St. John's districtgave the New Democratic Party a new lease on life Wednesday, with leader Lorraine Michael holding one of the party's two provincial seats.

Michaeldefeated Progressive Conservative Jerome Kennedy in Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi by a count of1,968votes to 1,595, with all 33polls reporting.

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NDP Leader Lorraine Michael credited the energy of her volunteers for holding Signal Hill-Quidi Vidi in the house of assembly. ((CBC))

"It feels wonderful," Michael told CBC News Wednesday night, shortly after she learned she would hold the seat retired leader Jack Harris had represented since 1990.

"I've always hoped it would happen, and we worked very, very hard to make it happen," said Michael, who won the party's leadership in May.

The stakes for the NDP were high in the byelection. With only one other seat in the legislature — Labrador West, held by Randy Collins — NDP organizers candidly admitted that a loss could have sent the party back into the political wilderness.

Premier Danny Williams, who has been soaring in consecutive public opinion polls, had canvassed frequently for Kennedy and made no secret of his desire to win the seat.

Apart from trailing the PCs in the polls, the party is vulnerable in Labrador West because Collins is one of four politicians who are part of a police investigation into allegations of improper spending at the legislature.

Once Michael takes her seat in this month's fall sitting, standings in the house of assembly will be 35 Tory seats, 11 Liberals and two New Democrats.

Aformer RomanCatholic nunwho has worked with community organizations for decades, Michael said she will turn her attention to preparing for the generalelection scheduled for Oct. 9, 2007. She vowed a full slate of candidates for next year'scampaign.

Voters wanted NDP presence in legislature: Kennedy

Kennedy,a criminal defence lawyer who made a jump into politicsat the invitation of Williams, applauded Michael.

"This has been a very clean campaign," KennedytoldreportersWednesday night.

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Jerome Kennedy says he saw his political candidacy as an extension of his legal career. ((CBC) )

"The people decided that they wanted the [NDP] to continue to exist in the legislature, and they made that choice."

He added he had no regrets about his debut in a political campaign.

"I can say that I gave it my all," he said.

The Liberals did not enter a candidate in the race, agreeing to a request from Harris to stay on the sidelines.

Williams said Wednesday night he would like to see Kennedy return for the general election, but added there is "absolutely no pressure" on Kennedy to run next year.

Kennedy said he has given no thought to running again, and that he will be returning to his law practice.

Party marshalled resources

The NDP marshalled as many resources as it could muster for the byelection, drawing in help from other district associations.

"We had a really committed team," said Michael."We had quite a team in place today to get the vote out. The activity didn't stop … and we did it."

Federal NDP Leader Jack Layton campaigned for Michael last week.

The district once had the reputation of being a Tory fortress. That image was exploded when New Democrat Gene Long won a 1986 byelection.

Long lost the seat in the general election of 1989 to PC Shannie Duff. The seat moved back into the NDP column in 1990, though, after Duff ran for the mayoralty of St. John's, and Harris— a former St. John's East MP— made his debut in provincial politics.

Turnout low

Organizers for both camps said they were expecting a tight race.

Turnout in the byelection was low, with 43 per cent of the 8,206 eligible voters casting ballots. By comparison, 67 per cent of the district's eligible voters took part in the 2003 general election.

Chuck Furey, the province's chief electoral officer, had described the turnout by mid-afternoon as "extremely low."