Key Points:

Political Editor Audrey Young

It wasn't so much a leaders' debate as an encounter group for two as John Key and Helen Clark greased their way through their last joint TV appearance in the 2008 election campaign.

What fuelled the very honey-laden exchanges were the tributes passed between Barack Obama and John McCain only a couple of hours earlier. They set the bipartisan atmospherics for the antipodean debate.

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Hard bitten policy scraps seemed inappropriate. The questions probed their characters and values deeper than the other two debates.

We saw a couple of decent people who showed each other respect for the first time, perhaps only because they sensed that that is what viewers wanted to see.

But Clark won convincingly because she was so much better than she has been before, and was more than a match for Key in showing her human side.

In what turned out to be a very public date, failings were good (Clark once tried tobacco, and dope but we knew that already), she had a grandfather who died of cancer, she cried on the graves at Paschendaele, she likes Jim Bolger and might have a beer with John outside of politics.

Clark was what she wore tonight - in the pink.

Political correspondent John Armstrong

John Armstrong, political correspondent

Less a debate and more like a mutual admiration society.

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This surprisingly friendly affair featured a far more easygoing Helen Clark than the abrasive one on display during Monday's TV3 debate. That night witnessed the Clark whom people have been tiring of.

Tonight night, the other warmer, more open, more likeable Clark was on show.

She made her points using anecdotes rather than slogans, making her messages more interesting and thus more appealing.

Key put in another measured, solid performance, although at times his replies were overlong and got away on him.

We learnt something about whether the pair had ever puffed on a cigarette, committed a crime, had a compost bin , believed in God or whether they would have a beer together.

She engaged with him in a good-natured fashion. He reciprocated likewise. How relevant all this joviality was to doing the job of Prime Minister is another matter. Overall, there was little to separate Clark and Key.

However, the pressure was on Clark tonight. She shone. If there has to be a winner, it was her. But only by the same margin as between the first and second horses in Tuesday's Melbourne Cup - in other words, almost nothing at all.

Political correspondent Fran O'Sullivan

Barrack Obama and John McCain set the stage for tonight's debate, inspiring both prime ministerial aspirants to new levels of welcome civility.

Helen Clark let her mask of command down and spoke from the heart. She peppered her responses with personal anecdotes and displayed more emotion than John Key as she (finally) let us behind her leadership facade, speaking on the losses her family suffered on Europe's killing fields, and, humorously letting us know she had indeed inhaled (it was the 60s) while her opponent had never even smoked a cigarette as a teenager.

Both ruled out a grand coalition. But by signalling she could indeed use Key's financial skills in an outside job if he is the loser on Saturday, (Key didn't go that far!) Clark was in fact preparing the ground to ultimately gain her rival's support for her own post-politics career if she loses the election.

Key was technocratic and stayed on message.

But Clark rose to the occasion and through a combination of humanity and statesmanship won the debate.