Key Points:

John Key suits campaigning. In the 2005 election he came into his own, repeatedly bettering Dr Michael Cullen on the hustings and television. Not only because, as someone more erudite than me pointed out, Key is a natural smiler, and people whose faces are uplifted even in repose - the Dalai Lama, Nelson Mandela - draw support.

I doubt anyone understands much uttered by the Dalai Lama, but thousands flock to his meetings.

Key's cheerful demeanour makes Cullen appear sullen, curmudgeonly and spiteful, but I've interviewed Cullen in his Napier home for half a day, and know he can also be funny, sassy and soft-hearted.

No doubt Key can be irascible, but I suspect it would take something major - such as his kids poking out the eyes of his Goldie painting with a compass - to make him lose his rag.

When Helen Clark announced the election date, Key's decisiveness cranked up several notches, brushing aside questions about the Prime Minister - he didn't want to talk about her, the country had nine years experience with Clark as its leader to make its own judgment.

But before going on about trust, she should look to her own behaviour over Winston Peters and Owen Glenn.

This was the Key who impressed voters three years ago, not the word-fumbling, Labour-lite he's been accused of being in the interim three years. You'd think veteran Labour MPs, such as Cullen, would take note and not deliver Key perfect platforms from which to display Labour politicians as "pitiful and desperate".

This was his response to Cullen linking him to the misfortunes of major American investment bank Merrill Lynch.

"Given his background and the fact Merrill Lynch has gone belly up, I would have thought New Zealanders should draw the conclusion you wouldn't put a man like that in charge of the New Zealand economy," were Cullen's words.

He went on to justify this catty remark by accusing Key of using his hugely successful career with the bank to crank up his credentials as an MP.

Cullen could have got his facts right for starters. The bank hasn't quite gone "belly up". It was bought by the Bank of America for about $50 billion. More importantly, it's ludicrous to cast aspersions on Key's credibility because the crazy sub-prime mortgage nonsense has brought several American financial giants to their knees. Anyway, Key didn't operate in the bank's lending area.

If Otago University's medical research department announced it had discovered a cure for cancer, which some years later turned out to be an over-hyped pill made of grass clippings, would we apportion blame to the current Attorney General and Minister of Finance because before he was elected to Parliament he lectured in another department at that university?

I know who I'd rather have running the country's economy in these increasingly depressing financial times - someone who's been out in the real world and knows what it's like to work in the private sector, where you're only as good as your last transaction.

Yes, Key's super-wealthy by Kiwi standards, but he's one who chose to return to New Zealand to try to make changes for the good.

Whether you agree with his political views or not, surely that's a big tick when so many of our rich-listers flee offshore as tax exiles.

Not that you can blame them, when being seriously wealthy means belonging to this country's persecuted minority.

No doubt Clark was referring to a so-called "hidden agenda" when she pulled out the trust card, but how could National hide anything when Trevor Mallard's busy announcing its policy (in cynical moments, I suspected Mallard of being hired by National to "leak" policy just so it would get press coverage aplenty).

National's too steady-as-we-go to ambush us - the party will focus on getting elected and staying in power for at least two terms before it even thinks of getting radical.

The Nats' "handmaiden" Act deserves trust because they're not scared to state unspeakable truths, such as global warming being a hoax. Rodney Hide was uncharacteristically understating when he said we're overly nanny-bossed - in Taranaki, residents are stockpiling saveloys and condensed milk, fearing the products - like lightbulbs - will be banned.

Last week Sir Roger Douglas intimated Act's bottom line for supporting National is Hide and himself in cabinet, and Key could do worse than give Douglas education. His unfinished business could stare down the strident teacher unions and nasty principals' federations, and lift standards by giving choice and power to parents and families.

If Key keeps on smiling through personal attacks - and reassuring New Zealanders that, under his watch, this country won't go belly up - National might win the election.

Which, in these crazy MMP times, is not the same as being the next government.