Premier Dalton McGuinty’s former right-hand man may go down in flames in the upcoming Toronto mayoral race, but the premier insists he doesn’t see it as a bad omen for the next provincial election.

A new poll suggests former deputy premier George Smitherman is lagging behind right-wing juggernaut Rob Ford, a controversial figure who’s plowing ahead with what appears to be a nearly unbeatable lead despite recent revelations about past brushes with the law.

Voters are flocking to Ford because he’s made it his mission to clamp down on wasteful spending, said Opposition Leader Tim Hudak.

“I think Rob Ford has very successfully tapped into something (the Progressive Conservatives have) always stood for: ending the gravy train at city hall and getting taxpayers value for their money,” he said in Toronto.

“I sense the same thing that is propelling the campaign behind Rob Ford, the thirst for change from the tax-and-spend governments we’ve seen at city hall or at Queen’s Park, is also getting more people interested in running for us provincially.”

But McGuinty is shrugging off suggestions that his governing Liberals will suffer collateral damage in the next election if Smitherman loses by a mile in the Oct. 25 vote. Every 30-day campaign is like a lifetime, and there’s still a full year before the provincial election in 2011, McGuinty said.