The debate of the Belle Alliance Populaire (viewable in its entirety here) drew an audience of over 3 million, apparently, yet was neither popular, beautiful, nor indicative of much of an alliance. In the concluding remarks, Jean-Luc Bennahmias, candidly pointed out that although he is generally considered un petit candidat, it would be more honest to admit that all seven of the debaters were petits candidats in the sense that none of them would make it to the second round unless one of them succeeded in igniting a fire around which the others could and would rally.
This did not happen. The candidates dutifully performed their roles. Valls was tough and wrapped himself in the mantle of wartime prime minister, the war in question being the one supposedly waged against terror; Montebourg, his chief rival, eloquently hit all his marks; Hamon earnestly tried to differentiate himself with his basic income proposal; Peillon schooled the others on social democracy; de Rugy and Pinel acquitted themselves honorably but seemed to accept their lot as petits candidats, unlike Bennahmias, who stood out by being rather less adapted than the others to the rules of the televisual game.
By American standards, all the candidates were masters of eloquence: capable of extended disquisitions on policy, well-spoken, disciplined, respectful of one another, eager to appear dignified rather than ingratiating, and above taking cheap shots. But there was little to sustain attention over 2 1/2 hours, and I doubt the debate swung many votes, although Hamon's performance was stronger than I expected, so he may have gained slightly, and Peillon had a certain appeal, but he is coming from so far back that it probably doesn't matter.
Next week's vote will simplify the field, thankfully, but Bennahmias's theorem remains true: until proof to the contrary, even the two winners will remain petits candidats unless they can somehow generate some momentum going into the next round.