ANALYSIS: Horwath, Hudak hold their own in Ontario debate

There was no knockdown, no 'moment' in the 90-minute debate. But if you were tuning in and weren't aware that Hudak and Horwath were debate rookies, you wouldn't have known it.

They came. They saw. They did not conquer. But then again, no one watching the leaders' debate should have expected that. 

There was no knockdown, no 'moment' in the 90-minute debate. Dalton McGuinty, Tim Hudak and Andrea Horwath did land some glancing blows — blows that are unlikely, however, to change many minds.  

But it is also true that if you were tuning into the debate and didn't know that Hudak and Horwath were rookies — first timers in that kind of pressure cooker — you wouldn't have known it. Horwath in particular surprised many, even in her own party, with a strong performance that was much improved from the northern issues debate in Thunder Bay last week.  

Both opposition leaders had to survive the debate — get into and out of it without a faux pas. If nothing else, they accomplished that, while more importantly introducing themselves to an electorate that is not entirely engaged, shall we say, in this election campaign.  

From Hudak there was less of the message track — his forte since becoming leader. He appeared less robotic and seemed to enjoy the experience.  

There didn't appear to be one defining moment in Tuesday night's debate. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)

Horwath clearly won the Miss Congeniality award, which is not a bad thing. But at one point many might have been left wondering: would she relate a story about everyone she's met during this campaign?

McGuinty looked uncomfortable

McGuinty was in his fourth debate as Liberal leader. And while he has clearly improved from 1999, 2003 and 2007, he still looks uncomfortable.  

His smirks seem to come in all the wrong places. What's so funny, for example, about bragging about building 18 new hospitals?

And his hand-waving was so pronounced at times they may have actually helped cool down the sweltering makeshift studio in the CBC atrium.

But McGuinty held his own. Not an easy thing to do when under attack from both the other leaders.  

There was a risk for the three party leaders in agreeing to a debate this late in the campaign. Especially considering — if the polls are to be believed — this election is still a toss-up. A mistake by any one of the three could have been fatal.  

But, having survived, it's now back to the campaign buses for the final push leading up to October 6th.  

Each of the three will take something from the debate and use it for the remaining days. Psychologically, that may work to Hudak's and Horwath's favour, since for the first time in this election they appeared as equals to the guy looking for his third majority.

There is little doubt, however, that the smiles on the faces of senior Liberal campaign staff after the debate and on the Liberal bus are an indication they believe the worst is over. That they believe they are heading in the right direction with the right leader.  

Then again, if you listen to the spin from the Tories and New Democrats that's exactly what they believe too. Stay tuned.