English debate preview: pressure on Dion and Layton

By Harold Jansen on Oct 2, 2008

Tonight is the big show: the English language debate at 9 Eastern/6 Pacific. The dynamics here are a little different than in French. The Conservatives are in a stronger position outside of Quebec, so Harper mainly has to stay out of trouble. I imagine we'll see the relaxed prime-ministerial sweater vest version of Stephen Harper again. All four leaders will be gunning for Harper again. I don't expect we'll see the NDP and Liberals squabble too much over who is the real opponent to Harper. The way the Conservatives are poised to break through in British Columbia means they both have to dump on Harper big time. Harper just has to weather the storm. It's pretty much impossible for an incumbent prime minister to "win" the debate; you win by not losing, which is about the best you can hope for.

Duceppe is pretty much irrelevant tonight, but he's a good debater, so he will likely mostly just irritate Harper. May is a bit of wild card. I thought she was surprisingly good in the French debate. She has nothing to lose really and I suspect she'll be pretty effective, but any gains are marginal in the election.

That leaves Dion and Layton as the leaders who have to perform well. Dion comes off of a decent performance in the French debate, but will obviously be hampered by the fact that English is his second language. He benefits from the fact that many people have written him off without actually listening to him speak. If people listen, they might be surprised to find out that he's actually a pretty bright guy. Layton also needs to do well. Right now, the NDP is in the annoying position of being up in the polls over last election, but not enough to translate into many seats. The debate could help Layton get over the bubble. In past debates, Layton has been a bit too over-eager and comes off a bit rehearsed as he launches into various set pieces; if he can resist those tendencies, he could do all right.

Any guess as to viewership? The Biden-Pallin debate will be tough competition. I know I'm going to have trouble resisting a peak over at American networks to see how it's going. At least I don't have to choose between the debate and The Office. That would be a tough one.

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