The all important debate in Ontario is ready to go. Polls only highlight the importance, tonight's exchange will likely decide the election, particularly because of the late timing in the campaign.
A few things I'm looking at tonight:
-Horwath is perceived as "likeable" apparently, but I would submit the vast majority of Ontarians haven't the foggiest who she is, what she stands for, her demeanour, so much so most couldn't pick her out of a police lineup. In many respects, this debate is Horwath's introduction, how she translates will be key to the NDP appearing a viable option. Should Horwath fail to impress, the Layton hangover might wane and the NDP could lose support to perceived power parties.
-People don't know Hudak very well, but they also don't seem to like the guy so much. Proof is provided by the PC campaign, which seems to be systematically taking the focus off the leader as time marches on. I've listened to a few Hudak radio interviews and he actually comes off as personable, even funny. I want to see how Hudak tries to humanize himself without it looking like a cheap pander. Nobody is giving Hudak the keys if he doesn't look a Premier in waiting, so he doesn't just have to throw mud at McGuinty, he has to look classy in the process.
-McGuinty is a known quantity, for me the key will be for him to stay cool, confident and turn attacks into diatribes on successes. Ontarians don't have to love the guy to vote for him, the past has proven that, so McGuinty needs to deflect the barrage that is coming his way from both parties.
-I expect to see Horwath and Hudak largely ignore each other, so it will be up to McGuinty to raise doubts on two fronts, he can expect to be alone in softening up his opponents. I could be wrong on this score, the format necessitates back and forth between the two opposition parties, but I expect quick pivots to turn the debate into a judgement of McGuinty.
-There is a real danger that Horwath comes away unscathed in this debate, which is a net negative for the Liberals, good news for the PC's, at least intuitively.
At this point, I would argue a draw favours McGuinty. If polls stay static post-debate, this could hurt the NDP, as some late breakers move to the more viable option. Hudak needs some momentum, so a "blah" debate won't serve his interests, this reality might give a hint of nervousness. Should Horwath win the debate, there is a scenario where the NDP could come up the middle and provide fascinating outcomes. Should be an intriguing affair...