Now this early in the race there isn't much to say other than this early in the race there isn't much to say. If you compare the race to a 100 metre dash, all that's taken place so far is two runners have taken to the field and are just beginning to limber up. Of course this hasn't stopped the liberal and conservative media from attempting to craft all sorts of narratives dreamed up by partisan pundits on twitter; none of whom, by the way, are actually dippers.
One of the few things we can do this early in the race is to look at some of the candidate's strengths, weaknesses and questions about them that need to be answered. More will be added as we get to know these two candidates and any others who enter the race.
Strengths: --He's a Cree Indian. Saganash could capitalize on his ancestry in much the same way Obama did.
Weaknesses: --He's a Cree Indian. Unfortunately racism still lingers in Canada. While the overt racists wouldn't likely vote NDP, a campaign of vilification against aboriginals could dissuade some fence sitters.
--He's extremely unknown. Voters outside of Quebec have most likely never even heard his name mentioned. Even those who know of him--like me for instance--probably know very little about him.
Strengths: --He's well positioned to capitalize on Jack Layton's legacy.
--He knows the organization he helped build. This would give him a big advantage in maintaining party unity.
--Brian is not afraid to tackle the controversial issues head on. We've already seen this in the early days as he's taken a clear stance on the Clarity Act and the addition of more seats in the House of Commons.
Weaknesses: --He's never run for public office.
--By all accounts, Topp appears to be a cold fish. While this hasn't held Harper back, the contrast between the affable Layton and cool Topp will stand out like a sore thumb.
Questions: --Can he win in an election? Brian will have to demonstrate before the leadership convention in March that he can actually get elected by winning the Toronto-Danforth by-election or another seat vacated by an NDP MP. If he's not an MP by then it will hurt his chances.
For more on the NDP leadership race follow: Accidental Deliberations and Buckdog.
Update: Via Greg in the comments is footage of Saganash giving a speech in English (at about the 8 minute mark) at the NDP convention a couple months ago. His English is more than acceptable.