The Stakes: While the Liberals are leading the polls, expectations are high on Martin, which is often the kiss of death for debates..
The Goal: Because of that, Martin's goal should be to firm up his support, especially in Ontario. A lot of the Liberal support out there is soft, so Martin needs to play to his base.
The Debator: When the Liberal leadership race was going on, the debates featured leaders sitting down, with hardly any clash. They were scheduled on Saturdays and were designed to generate the least possible amount of media exposure. Since it was the Martin supporters who decided the format, that tells you that, even the true believers, have doubts about Paul's debating skills.
The Enemy: Go after Duceppe hard in the French debate. In English, ignore Layton completely because Liberal success in this election requires the NDP to remain marginalized.
Style: The new format will work well for Martin since the leaders won't have to work off the cuff as much. Paul works well off prepared texts and looks like a Prime Minister, even if he doesn't always sound like one.
Keys: The only real reason I can see for the growth in Liberal support in Ontario comes from the child care and handgun ban policies. Martin needs to come up with good lines to defend these policies because, while they sound really good in principle, there are a lot of holes in them for the opposition leaders to pick at. Martin will be better if he stays on script, and with the Liberals up in the polls, there's no real need to attack Harper yet.
Question he'd like to see asked: "Could each candidate share their thoughts on the Mexican Pesso Crisis?"
Question he'd rather not see: "Could each candidate share with us their opinion of Jean Chretien?"
The Stakes: Harper's political future requires that he win this campaign. And, despite doing everything right so far, that's looking less likely. Still, the policy groundwork has been laid.
The Goal: Harper's in the tough position of needing to turn people against the Liberals and show that he's a somewhat not overly horrible alternative.
The Debator: Harper won the English debates last time, but his campaign collapsed shortly afterwards. That tells me that people liked Harper the debator but not necessarily the message he was arguing. Because of that, he needs to sell the CPC policies.
The Enemy: Paul Martin. Both in English and French. The Tories won't win in Quebec, and every seat the BQ takes is one less seat the Liberals will get. That said, it wouldn't hurt for him to try and get Layton involved in the discussion, just so that Jack becomes somewhat relevant in this election again.
Style: Harper's very cool and yet looks forceful and strong. It might be a good idea for him to use a little humour to try and soften his image up this time. At the very least, he needs to lighten up.
Keys: While the temptation will be there, I don't think it's time for the Adscam attack - save it for the second debate. Instead, keep the focus on the policy campaign, selling your ideas and attacking those of the Liberals.
Question he'd like to see asked: "What brand of beer goes best with popcorn?"
Question he'd rather not see: "I am a proud Albertan. Discuss."
The Stakes: Since I'm a bit of a political geek, I've been having a lot of fun with the Election Predictor. When I crunch the numbers from some polls, the NDP are down to 12 seats. When I look at their numbers at the start of the election, they were over 40. This NDP campaign has been a disaster so far and they need to turn it around.
The Goal: Become relevant. I honestly don't think it matters what Jack says - he just needs to get noticed.
The Debator: I really liked Layton's feisty performance last year. But a lot of other people didn't. Regardless, Layton's French was surprisingly good so he'll do well in both languages.
The Enemy: Buzz Hargrove. But since Buzz isn't debating, it's Paul Martin. The soft NDP supporters have jumped en masse to the Liberals and it's essential that Layton goes after Martin hard.
Style: I suspect that we'll be seeing a lot more of statesman Jack who loves to talk about issues this time around. Calm and laid back, with the occasional dose of feigned moral outrage.
Keys: Layton should really hit the Liberals hard on child care. People say they like the Liberal child care plan because they think they're getting the NDP child care plan. Layton needs to emphasize that, like the health accord, it's just a cash transfer to the provinces with no real strings. He also needs to bring up the policies the NDP has proposed that have been completely ignored by the press.
Question he'd like to see asked: "Can each leader demonstrate how he has 'made parliament work' over the past year?"
Question he'd rather not see: "Compare and contrast the only two leaders who have a chance at winning this election."
The Stakes: Gilles is sitting pretty, despite a rough campaign so far.
The Goal: No major gaffes during the French debate and he should be fine.
The Debator: Duceppe was likely the best of the bunch last time. That's not saying a lot, but even anglos in Alberta and BC were raving about him after the 2004 debates.
The Enemy: Paul Martin. The separatists would love to see an angry Albertan as Prime Minister. Duceppe needs to go after Paul.
Style: Duceppe is the only opposition leader who can attack forcefully, without looking angry (Harper) or like a pest (Layton).
Keys: In French, Duceppe needs to play the "protector of Quebec" card, without looking too self righteous or arrogant. In English, he should just let loose and play the "bad cop". If they're talking about ethics, attack Paul on Adscam. If they're talking about health care, attack Paul on Adscam. If they're talking about the Environment, attack Paul on Adscam. Let Layton and Harper talk about policy, Duceppe needs to hurt Martin as much as possible.
Oh, and I hope he talks about Fe-DEEE-rawl-ism. Just because I always get a kick out of it, when he says that word.
Question he'd like to see asked: "Could all party leaders share their thoughts on Jean Lapierre?"
Question he'd rather not see: "Who would be the starting defencemen for Team Quebec?"