Up to 500 people enjoyed watching the Tukituki candidates being put to the test at last night's Hawke's Bay Today debate.
Labour candidate Anna Lorck and National candidate Lawrence Yule were said to have given a polished performance by members of the audience but New Zealand First candidate Joe Kairau was acknowledged as the dark horse.
"I think what Joe was saying made sense and he has been in the police force and worked in Corrections so he has lived a real life doing a real community job. He knows the people," one woman said.
Another woman, who hadn't heard of him before, said he spoke really well and agreed with a lot of what he was saying.
Greens candidate Chris Perley was also commended for the way he spoke about the issues, especially the opening of the Gisborne to Hawke's Bay rail.
"I found him very intriguing to listen to and he definitely had my attention."
However, others said it was pretty clear the election was still a race between National and Labour.
Dean Hyde picked Ms Lorck as the standout because of her handle on local issues and, although he thought Mr Yule had some good policies, wanted a fresh face for the electorate.
"Frankly Anna presents that and she is offering to tackle the localised issues. I appreciate the work Lawrence has done down in Wellington with local government but I think Anna represents the local concerns."
Mr Hyde summed the evening up as an interesting but also entertaining one after hearing the Democrats for Social Credit candidate Dick Ryan and Future Youth Party candidate Allister Tosh take the microphone.
"They were both very entertaining and made for a good evening and I guess that is now the nature of western democracy."
Wendy Wilks also enjoyed the voice of Mr Ryan and thought he spoke "very well".
Others said the minor parties were "weak" but it meant the debate gave a good representation of the electorate.