CALGARY -- Premier Jim Prentice is dismissing the possibility of the political left surging to power in the May 5 election, saying Alberta is "not an NDP province."

The Progressive Conservative leader had his guns firmly trained on NDP Leader Rachel Notley on Friday, one day after a televised leaders debate that many political pundits say she won.

Prentice said he likes Notley and considers her a "skilled" debater, but there are questions about how her party could afford its election promises.

"This is not an NDP province," Prentice said after touring a Calgary bakery. "I don't believe that the voters of Alberta want to see an NDP coalition or an NDP government. I think they take pride in our province as the economic engine of this country."

The election was supposed to be a coronation for Prentice when he called it a year earlier than required, with the opposition parties in disarray. But opinion polls have suggested there is a tight three-way race among the Tories, the NDP and the Opposition Wildrose under leader Brian Jean, and some of the most recent surveys put the NDP in front.

The Tories have been in power in Alberta since 1971. The NDP has never held more than 16 seats.

The debate tussle between Prentice and Notley reached a climax in an exchange over corporate taxes, with Prentice mocking Notley with the quip "I know math is difficult."

The hashtag ".mathishard" instantly became popular on Twitter, with many users labelling the remark as patriarchal and even sexist.

Prentice said he wasn't trying to be mean-spirited and was referring to a math error by the NDP earlier in the campaign.

"I did not mean any disrespect to Rachel Notley and I'm sure she knows that."

Asked if she considered Prentice's comments sexist or condescending, Notley said: "Not at all."

Doug Griffiths, a former PC cabinet minister who isn't running in this election, said the math comment is a disappointing distraction.

"If Jim had turned and said that to Brian Jean, I don't think anyone would have said anything," Griffiths said. "But he said it to Rachel and it sounded patronizing and belittling ... I know Jim and I don't think he intended it that way at all."

Griffiths said there was no doubt that Notley "did exceptionally well."

"Jim really needed to tie and I think he was a very close second."

Duane Bratt, political scientist at Mount Royal University, said the math comment shows Prentice is on the razor's edge as far as his image goes.

"It ties into the reputation that Prentice has of this arrogant elitist mansplaining to Rachel how arithmetic works."

While Notley and Prentice duked it out, the premier often turned his back to Jean.

Prentice shrugged off suggestions he was dismissive, citing his frustration with how specific Jean was being about proposed Wildrose spending cuts.

Jean said he had no concerns with it.

"I'm not going to comment on the professionalism of other people in that particular debate," he told reporters at an event in Edmonton.

"I'll let people decide for themselves if they see what took place if that's the person they want for their premier, then that's the person they want for their premier."

Notley urged Albertans Friday not to look to the Wildrose as an alternative to the Tories.

She said the two parties have plenty of things in common and the Wildrose is quickly becoming a non-factor.

"Albertans will decide what sort of province Alberta is," Notley said. "I think Jim Prentice telling them what they are or not is not helpful in terms of having people turn away from the impression he's a little arrogant."