To my mind, the NDP have a terrific opportunity with this leadership contest, if they get it right, Liberals have much to worry about. On the other hand, choosing the wrong person could provide the political space required for a Liberal resurgence. Most Liberals will admit, our destiny isn't entirely within our control, external forces will play a role, that's a fair representation. Putting on the partisan hat for a moment, a quick ranking of who I think would be the best NDP leader from a Liberal perspective, with the chief factor being an ability to reinvent the brand somewhat, appeal to voters the NDP MUST capture if they truly can takeout the Conservatives:
1 Brian Topp
Topp looks every bit a "in the pocket" NDP candidate, planting the flag on traditional ground, having a background which feeds the historical political spectrum bent. To my mind, any indication that the NDP will stay true to their core ideals is a net negative on the replacing Harper front. Not a matter of agreeing or disagree, but there is nothing about Topp that suggests an NDP ready to embrace a more mainstream viewpoint, which translates to limited appeal. Factor in that Topp is a wildcard on the voter resonance front- backroom acument not necessarily translating to electoral juggernaut- and he represents a potential risky choice, which is appealing from the Liberal perspective.
2 Peggy Nash
I would actually put Nash first, except she is a proven campaigner, we've seen her on the trail, we know her strengths and weaknesses. There is much appeal with Nash, today I read about Thatcher comparisons, she is clearly a force. However, as with Topp, Nash is almost an old guard dipper philosophically, there is plenty of potential attack ad fodder, she can easily be framed and would seem to lack the "rethink" variable necessary for the NDP to move to true threat nationally. As well, I find Nash terribly bland, perhaps effective, but little to suggest she can recreate that Layton "magic", fairly low on the charisma quotient. A "from the left" NDP leader, with a "steely" character, sign me up if I'm a Liberal.
3 Paul Dewar
Dewar screams moderate, his tone is friendly, his disposition warm and disarming. If you want to put a new face on a growing party, Dewar fits the bill in many regards. His French is a drawback, but assuming he grows on that front, he is the type that might just have the common touch necessary to reintroduce the NDP brand. If I'm a handler, Dewar is the kind of politician would could be sold as a modern New Democrat, one that could move the party to a place where it could siphon off more Liberal votes and truly threaten the Conservatives. Dewar makes me nervous as a Liberal.
4 Thomas Mulcair
Mulcair has baggage, and his personality could take him either way electorally, but he is SPOT ON with his message, the conversation he is pushing is the right recipe for electoral bliss. The trouble with Mulcair to date, he isn't pandering to the base necessarily, he's providing the straight goods for general election success, a stance which hurts his chances for leadership. However, Mulcair understands that the key to future NDP prospects is economic credibility, shedding the old assumptions about the NDP and presenting a fiscal alternative that is modern in approach. Mulcair walks over Liberal ground, for this reason, he represents the biggest threat should he win the nomination. Let's hope Dippers can't see the "big picture" arguments he is selling, because in many regards that is the necessary template to squeeze the Liberals.
Apologizes to the other candidates, but these are the big four in my estimation. As well, not naive enough to think a leadership campaign necessarily translates to wider election messaging, very pragmatic on that front.