Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Cunliffe a new man after debate

New Lynn sees a sunnier Labour leader as he returns to campaigning after one-on-one with Key

David Cunliffe collects for the Cancer Society during a walkabout at Lynn Mall. Photo / Dean Purcell
David Cunliffe collects for the Cancer Society during a walkabout at Lynn Mall. Photo / Dean Purcell

What a difference one debate makes.

An entirely new David Cunliffe emerged on the campaign trail yesterday - one with a spring in his step and energy that was all but absent earlier.

The Labour Party leader's campaign team could barely keep up as he charged around his New Lynn electorate, through malls, a factory, and for a visit to the Chinese community centre.

He played up for the cameras at the Chinese event, jumping into a game of table tennis with an elderly man. "This is just like [the leaders' debate] last night," he said, slamming a forehand back across the table.

What had changed? he was asked.

"I'm in New Lynn. It's a wonderful place to be and we're getting a wonderful reception from the locals."

He went on to say his one-on-one with Mr Key had given him "a new energy".

Mr Cunliffe started the day at the Prysmian cable factory in New Lynn.

"Do you think the tide is turning?" he asked workers. "Because it feels like it."

Later, at a walkabout around LynnMall, every second person had something to say about the debate.

"You were fabulous," said one supporter. "We've seen you for what you are."

Long-time Labour voter Ian Kingstone, 72, said he had been too nervous to watch the debate, knowing it could be Mr Cunliffe's final chance for revival after a week of poor poll results.

"It's like watching a rugby game. I can't watch a kick until I know it's gone over.

"But he may be back in the game now."

Mr Cunliffe had the advantage of being in a familiar electorate. But he was a completely different person from the Labour leader who trudged around Rotorua on Tuesday.

There, he had spent more time having lunch than meeting voters, and led his entourage with little energy through mostly empty streets. His best performance was at Rotorua Primary School, in an assembly hall where only a handful of people were old enough to vote.

Yesterday, he appeared to be making up for lost time, bustling from place to place and scheduling a full day of events.

Later in the afternoon, he met a rare angry face.

A heavily tattooed man outside the New Lynn railway station said he was struggling with addiction to synthetic drugs, and couldn't get a job.

"Then vote for the right person," Mr Cunliffe replied, strolling on to the next handshake nearby.

- NZ Herald

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