Key Points:

National's campaign organiser is coming out of the shadows. At 16 on the party list, Steven Joyce is going into Parliament, and if the campaign is marginally more successful than the one he ran for Don Brash last time he will be in the next Cabinet.

It is a prospect Helen Clark loathes. She saw his list placing as a "reward for being part of the Hollow Men, raising the money, organising the Brethren" last time.

More likely he got it for leading the reorganisation of the party after its crushing defeat in 2002, running a 2005 campaign that brought it within reach of victory and overseeing the operation this time.

When we meet, Joyce is helping prepare John Key for the evening's television debate with Clark and National's campaign is not looking good. "Flat-footed" is the phrase in all the commentaries.

The Government has made a splash with a bank deposit guarantee in response to the financial crisis. Key, the successful financial player in his previous career, has had nothing interesting to say on the crisis.

Labour has promised to phase out the parental means test on tertiary student allowances. Key said it was an "interesting move". When is he going to make one?

Joyce is unflappable. "If we were having this conversation last week you'd have been saying the same things to Mike Williams about Labour's campaign," he says.

"Obviously they've done a few things. But they've been very quiet until this week. The reality is you are not going to win every day of an election campaign. You've just got to lay out your programme, keep talking about the things that matter to people and win more days than you lose. There are a lot of days to go."

Consistency is the key, as it is in the business he knows best, commercial radio. In his previous career he launched nationwide music stations The Edge and Solid Gold FM and developed The Rock network.

He started his first station aged 21 in New Plymouth where he was born and raised. His intention, when he went to Massey University, had been to be a vet.

"I had two horses when I was growing up, couple of nags, tried to turn them into world-beating showjumpers but it didn't happen."

Nor did veterinary science. "I missed the cut - not by much I was told." He settled for a zoology degree. But long before he graduated, an extra-curricular activity had led him astray.

"I always had an interest in radio so I thought I'd pop along to the university station and see if I could get an announcing gig.

"I ended up doing some announcing and became programme director. There was a bunch of us there talking about our chances of making it in radio. Jeremy Corbett of More FM was one of them.

"We had an interest in commercial radio as well as playing alternative music on the student station."

After setting up Energy FM in New Plymouth, he and two partners became The RadioWorks and built it into a listed public company owning 22 local stations and four national networks, based eventually in Hamilton, then Auckland.

When they sold it to Canwest seven years ago Joyce was aged 38 and "felt there were other parts of life that needed developing". One of them was exercise. "I went and did a couple of half-marathons, which was pretty good for someone who hadn't run since he was 21."

Another was marriage. He and wife Suzanne now have a 1-year-old daughter and live on a lifestyle block at Albany.

He went into tourism marketing with Jason's Travel Media. And for the first time in his life he joined a political party. Why National?

"The values of the party line up with mine. I didn't see myself in the socialist mould and I don't see myself in the Act mould. I believe in people having a go for themselves and government not getting in the way but standing up for those people who need its support."

So why not Act? "Because I think life is not as straightforward as they think. My personal view is that you've got to support people a bit more than Act would."

He had been in the party only a year or two when it polled dismally at the 2002 election and leader Bill English wanted a thorough review. "They looked for somebody with a bit of experience outside the party in marketing and business, somebody fresh.

"It had to be done with some care because it was an organisation that was hurting. You had to get the answers but do it in such a way that you didn't end up breaking anything."

The result was a complete revision of a three-tiered organisation where the top and bottom, central office and electorates had been dominated by the middle, the party's regions. When Joyce was finished power had been firmly centralised.

"You don't now go to, say, Christchurch and find them running a very different campaign to what is going on in Auckland. Consistency of brand and message is vital in the electronic campaigns we are all in now.

"Everyone is plugged in from one end of the country to the other, so people expect consistency."

After the review he became National's general manager and one of Nicky Hager's Hollow Men. He says he has not read the book.

"I think what happened there was that somebody got hold of emails from a bunch of people who were arguing their ideas, sometimes in quite colourful language, and then presenting it as an expose of some of the agendas, and I'm thinking, whoa, are you saying the Labour Party doesn't have discussions about where they go with particular policies and people don't argue their point vociferously?"

And he denies encouraging the Exclusive Brethren group to do anything underhand. "They came and said, these are what we want to do to help you.

"That always makes you a bit nervous because it is not necessarily helping. I advised more than one to go off and see the Chief Electoral Officer or the Electoral Commission because I was concerned the sort of things they wanted to do wouldn't be allowed."

Like "push-polling", that plants poison in the voter's mind: would you vote for party X if you knew it wanted to ... ?

"That's rubbish. We don't believe in it. It doesn't work. Also I think it's wrong. It is unethical and pointless. I think it bounces on the party. I mean, people aren't stupid. I just think, why would you do it? I think you've got to credit people with intelligence.

"We didn't condone it last time and wouldn't condone it this time."