With all eyes on Tuesday debates, pollster and strategic consultant Bruce Anderson - who has prepped leaders of both parties himself in the past - drafted notes on his Globe and Mail blog for Stephen Harper and Michael Ignatieff.
Tory Leader Stephen Harper: With a 10-point or better lead in the polls, the campaign is his to lose. The economy is strong enough for him to win re-election, and his opponents splinter the votes in ways efficient for the Conservatives. So there are probably only two ways that he could falter.
The first is demeanour. Some voters love him, others detest him - but it's the voters in the middle that matter. These folks admire his diligence, his intellect, and think he's a competent steward of the affairs of government, but they would like to feel he's a warmer, more even tempered, less combative person. When debating, he should avoid calling his opponents socialists, separatists, unpatriotic or liars.
The second is accountability. Mr. Harper's opponents will attack his aggressively: contempt for Parliament on government spending, the "in-and-out" Elections Canada charges, the RCMP investigation of your former adviser, a potentially damning report from the Auditor-General on G8/G20 spending, and heavy-handed looking tactics on the campaign trail. He should try to defuse as many of these issues as possible in his opening statement and acknowledge his government has committed its share of errors, and ask people to judge his team on its overall performance, not just its worst days.
Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff: Above all, he needs to stay loose. He should continue to look energized by the election and let people see that he's having fun. One of the most powerful non-verbal cues that politicians send is very simple: the difference between looking upbeat and looking tense. Kim Campbell's appeal was high and rising when she radiated optimism; as soon as she looked worried about the economy, jobs, the deficit, the troubles of the world her support began to evaporate. A strong challenger's campaign needs to spark unease with the status quo but at the same time deliver reassurance about the future: a relaxed self confidence helps a lot.
Mr. Ignatieff should find ways to illustrate how different he is from Mr. Harper as a human being. For example, when he shows a willingness to wade happily into the fray of politics, while arguing that the Tory Leader seems to be fleeing or dodging scrutiny in every way possible, this contrast is effective It borrows from and builds on things that have concerned some voters about Mr. Harper for a while.
He also needs to highlight crisply and often how different the Liberal and Conservative agendas are. He should make his policy case in short powerful bursts. The Liberal pitch so far is that tax cuts, law and order, and a strong defence are good things, but not all that Canadians dream about or aspire to them - and that health, education, and a decent retirement deserve more attention, not less. He should harness, not challenge, growing confidence in the economy - and shouldn't hesitate to say that Canadians are the ones who are making the economy grow, not the government.