Winner: David Cunliffe
John Key (yet again) talked about New Zealand being on the "cusp of an exciting future." But the prime minister failed to spell out for us just what that vision entails.
Three leaders' debates into this election campaign it was time to put flesh on the bones and tell us about what this exciting future means for New Zealanders - jobs, industry, pay packets and our place in the world. He didn't.
David Cunliffe gave us a taste of what a Labour reforming Government would bring to the table. It was not an all encompassing vision or, for that matter, plan. He was aggressive where the Prime Minister was perfunctory.
Both could have done with some humour.
The strain is showing but on balance I gave it to Cunliffe.
Winner: David Cunliffe
It was a more even debate than any of the others. Cunliffe's preparation paid off for the most part. He was on top of his material, and explained well why the status quo was not satisfactory for Labour.
He pitched his arguments well with one notable exception: his melodramatics over child poverty were over-the-top and counter-productive. Key won some segments. He butchered Cunliffe over capital gains tax and it was looking pretty even. What swung it was the scratch in Key's record
"We are on the cusp of something special," he said for the umpteenth time this campaign. Some ad-man has told him that will give voters hope. I think it is hopeless and sounds like empty clap-trap.
Winner: John Key
John Campbell likened the debate to a contest between Stability and Fairness. Stability won. John Key was stability personified. He was rock solid.
The bottom-line for David Cunliffe was that he had to land a decent hit on the Prime Minister. The pressure was all on Cunliffe. But there was no hit.
Key instead got the easiest ride he has had in any such debate. It was just another day at the office for him. Cunliffe bravely claimed a shift in voter sentiment of just a few percentage points could still see a change in government.
But his focus on "too many people earning too little", getting children out of the poverty trap, raising the minimum wage and "putting food in the fridge" suggested that he had opted to use the debate as a platform to address Labour's core supporters and stop his party's dismal poll ratings from sinking even lower.
He was accomplished in doing that. But he was not talking to the rest of New Zealand. Key was. And that was the crucial difference.
They gripped those oversize podiums tensely, as if their carefully rehearsed one-liners might otherwise float away. Key's eyes lit up when Cunliffe's capital gains tax blunder was raised by the bushy tailed, even-handed, occasionally overblown John Campbell. The policy was a dog! Not even the SPCA would take it! Cunliffe scowled back, like an angry cat.
Cunliffe retaliated swiftly. "The PM couldn't answer a question about his own tax cut!" he thundered, though I couldn't quite make out what the question was. There was much talk of data. Hard data. Cunliffe was angry for NZ, Key relaxed for NZ.
There was no clear winner, apart, perhaps, from the hairdressers of Horowhenua.