The mainstream media seems fairly mixed on the debate and most are calling it a draw. But boy, is Harper cleaning up among average Canadians. Every single post-debate poll, focus group, or panel of undecided voters has Harper as the decisive winner and, because of that, Martin as the obvious loser. There wasn't a knocko...err, defining moment, à la Mulroney in '84, but Martin took a beating all night long and it showed. He stuttered...even during his opening statements. The stammered. He was flustered. His "did your handlers tell you to talk all the time" comment followed by a laugh was likely the most replayed moment of the debate and it wasn't Martin's shinning moment. Martin also repeatedly stuck his hand up when he didn't like where his opponents were going. I half expected him to snap his fingers and in a sassy voice proclaim "talk to the hand." Or rather, since this is Paul Martin, "Let me be perfectly clear: talk to the hand."
Layton and Ducceppe were the attack dogs on this night. Layton attacked Martin’s record and since Martin has decided he refuses to talk about the positives of his record, he had little to offer in the way of defenses. Ducceppe, realizing that what he did would have little importance, casually leaned on his podium and taunted Martin: "Answer the question. Answer the question.". Having decided that he's going to ride the sponsorship scandal to the finish line, he had a one-track mind in these debates.
And this left Stephen Harper to simply sit back and look like a Prime Minister. Sporting a new haircut and a spiffy suit, Harper looked confident. He was the only debater who didn't feel the need to talk over everyone else at every opportunity. He calmly said "that's not true" whenever Martin launched a long winded, rambling attack and then calmly explained his position. Admittedly he dodged some questions such as Iraq. And he stumbled over healthcare (memo to Harper: If your advisors don't want you to talk about something, there's a very good reason why. They're running a very good campaign so far. Listen to them!). But, by and large, he explained himself on social issues well and I think he alleviated fears a lot of Canadians had about him.
By and large, all three opposition leaders performed well and accomplished what they had to do: Harper eased fears. Layton attacked Martin on social issues. Ducceppe, well, he could have dropped his pants in the middle of the debate and ran across the stage and it wouldn't have really mattered. Martin, however, looked weak. In the post-match analysis, Stephen LeDrew, an avid Martinite, summed up the debate by saying "Most Canadians were frustrated with this debate and turned the TV off after 15 minutes." I think that was more wishful thinking on Mr. LeDrew's part than anything else.