New Brunswick voters are a fickle lot.

No sitting premier has managed to win a second term since 2003, with the Liberals and Progressive Conservatives simply swapping power back and forth.

Premier Brian Gallant aims to change that with a second straight Liberal majority in Monday's provincial election. Polls have suggested he has the advantage, but pundits say the race has tightened -- and Tory Leader Blaine Higgs could find a path to the premier's office.

"The election is going to come down to about 10 seats," says J.P. Lewis, a political scientist at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John.

The Liberals have been struggling to deal with one of Canada's weakest economies, and much of the party's vote is concentrated in French-speaking ridings.

Lewis says the province's prolonged economic malaise has become the dominant issue in the campaign, with the two main parties offering traditional solutions.

Higgs' Tories have cast themselves as tight-fisted, fiscal conservatives, while Gallant's Liberals have made it clear they believe continued deficit spending will help the economy turn around -- a strategy adopted from Justin Trudeau's 2015 electoral playbook.

"The role of government and spending is front and centre," Lewis said. "These are classic questions about the role of government."

Gallant has routinely accused Higgs, a former finance minister, of planning to slash government spending, particularly in education -- an accusation Higgs has denied.

"Higgs has been on the defensive," Lewis said. "Voters don't want to hear that cuts are coming."

In a bid to shift the campaign dynamic, Higgs stunned the province during a leaders' debate by claiming Gallant had offered him the finance minister's job shortly after the Liberals won the 2014 election -- a claim the premier flatly denied.

"In a quiet campaign, it definitely had an impact on the coverage," Lewis said. "Whether it resonated with voters, I'm not sure ... I just found it odd ... It wasn't like it was a real gotcha moment."

The third parties -- the Greens, NDP and People's Alliance -- are not expected to make significant inroads, although they might contribute to vote-splitting in some of the province's 49 ridings.

Jamie Gillies, a political scientist at St. Thomas University in Fredericton, said the opposition parties may have come up short in making the election campaign a referendum on the Gallant government, which might bode well for the Liberals.

"This appears to be an election focused on a group of ridings that might swing," he says.

Aside from spending, language has emerged as an low-grade issue during the campaign -- a perennial feature of New Brunswick politics.

Roger Ouellette, a political science professor at the Universite de Moncton, says the Conservatives are considered a longshot in the 16 ridings with a francophone majority.

"There's a disconnect between the Conservative party and francophones," Ouellette says. "It's very clear ... All the polls say around two-thirds of the francophones will not vote Conservative."

Even though the unilingual Higgs has been studying French, Ouellette says his previous affiliation with the now-defunct Confederation of Regions Party has come back to haunt the Tories.

The party, which held official Opposition status between 1991 and 1995 before disappearing, had promised to repeal the provincial 1969 Official Languages Act -- a plank that assured its unpopularity among francophones.

Despite this handicap, the Conservatives are well aware that Gallant has been losing support from the province's English-speaking majority, Ouellette said.

"So there's a disconnect between the anglophones and Gallant," he says.

The Liberals' so-called vote inefficiency means the party may secure more votes than the Progressive Conservatives on Monday, but it may not be enough to hold on to power.

As a result, this election is expected be a replay of the tight race of 2014. Though the Liberals won the popular vote by a margin of 8.1 percentage points, their majority win was secured by only three seats, with the party winning 27 seats and the Tories winning 21.

Five ridings were decided by less than 100 votes, and 13 ridings had margins of less than 500 votes.

With such a tight race, the small number of third-party candidates who have a shot at winning could hold the balance of power in a potential minority government.

Green party Leader David Coon made history in 2014 by winning the party's first-ever seat in the 49-seat legislature -- and he is likely to hold on to his Fredericton South riding this time around.

Even though the People's Alliance has never won more than three per cent of the popular vote, polls have suggested that leader Kris Austin could score a victory in Fredericton-Grand Lake, where he came within 26 votes of winning in 2014.

Gillies says Austin's conservative "common sense" message about government waste and overlap seems to be getting traction, as is Coon's "Made in New Brunswick" economic platform, which is focused on sustainability and the green economy.

Austin has also taken aim at official bilingualism by suggesting the province's commitment to "duality" in services has proven to be too expensive, Gillies says. But his approach is far more nuanced than the rights-based approach taken by the Confederation of Regions.

"But to many New Brunswickers, the People's Alliance message is still populist, anglophone dog whistling, just a more coded one, especially to Acadian and francophone voters, who believe language rights are a settled matter," Gillies says.

Former Liberal Chris Collins, who was suspended from the caucus in April over harassment allegations, decided to contest his Moncton Centre seat as an Independent. Collins has represented the area for 11 years.

As for rookie NDP Leader Jennifer McKenzie, her party appears to have been stuck in low gear since she was acclaimed leader just over a year ago. She replaced former NDP leader Dominic Cardy, who in January 2017 was hired as adviser to Higgs and is running for the Tories this time around.

At dissolution, the seat count in the legislature was 24 Liberals, 21 Progressive Conservatives, one Green, one Independent and two vacancies.