The Conservatives were presented with a complex and challenging opponent in Michael Ignatieff.
He's clearly more articulate and polished than his predecessor, so attempts to attack his ability would prove problematic.
His past positions were closer to the government's own core than the Liberal core on issues like Afghanistan, torture, Quebec and U.S. relations. While that gives opportunities for wedges, the new Liberal focus on unity and professionalism makes that less certain of success that a few months ago.
Having witnesses the collapse of his predecessor's policy initiative, Ignatieff is keeping his platform powder dry.
That leaves his biography, especially his lengthy absence from the country and his ambition.
The results are some well-executed ads and excellent websites in English and French designed around a simple theme: Ignatieff is an arrogant bastard.
The point is to help voters to distrust Ignatieff by showing that he is selfish, self-obsessed and in it for himself.
But the attack seems fundamentally flawed to me.
What made the Dion attack ads so effective is that they built up a powerful contrast.
Stéphane Dion was reduced to an incompetent fool with a zany plan.
The other side of the ledger was Stephen Harper. As the incumbent, it was easy to picture him doing the job. With a robust first-term agenda, he was a man of action. And with the coffers full, he was able to deliver good news.
The ballot question was framed around incompetent vs competent.
The problem with framing Ignatieff as selfish is that independent, low-information voters think all politicians are selfish, including Stephen Harper. His panicky reaction to the coalition threat only reinforced the image of Harper's self-interest in holding onto power.
More to the point, the ads actually cede to Ignatieff a number of major points: ability, internationalism, but - most dangerously - strength.
I'm a subscriber to the Will Ferguson theory of Bastards and Boneheads.
It states that Canadians elect leaders who are bastards, not boneheads.
Ferguson writes: "Bastards succeed. They are ruthless. They are active. Their cause may be noble or it may be amoral, but the Bastard is always the active principle. Boneheads fail, often by stumbling over their own feet. They are reactive. Inept. Indignant. They are usually truly amazed by their failures."
Trudeau versus Clark. Mulroney versus Turner. Chrétien versusu Day. Harper versus Dion. Most of our recent national elections were competitions between arrogant bastards and stumbling boneheads, and the bastards always win.
Conceding the "arrogant bastard" high ground is a major error. In effect, the Conservative Party is paying millions of dollars to brand Michael Ignatieff the very thing Canadians vote for: arrogant bastards.
The best attack ads make their victim an object of ridicule. This one attempts that with a cheeky attitude, but builds up its target so much before it tears him down that the net result can be a grudging respect for Ignatieff.
Taught at Harvard? Isn't that a good thing?
On the cover of GQ? That's kind of cool, actually.
The thing he missed most about Canada was Algonquin Park? How… Canadian.
A final point is the reliance of the campaign on the tall poppy syndrome.
As I've written before, the jury is most definitely out on the existence of a tall poppy syndrome when it comes to national politics.
Most of our Prime Ministers have been men of letters. Many have spent time outside the country, although none to the degree of Ignatieff.
The nation has not been a bastion of populism, electing hockey players and lumberjacks to the top job. Rather, it almost exclusively elects university professors, lawyers, mandarin bureaucrats and long-time senior Cabinet ministers to the top job.
The choice of brand by the Conservatives is an odd one.
Better choices would have been out of touch, or making it up on the fly, or shifty.
But arrogant is something that Canadians say they don't like, and then vote into office again and again.