Key Points:

Helen Clark has come out firing after many gave John Key a victory in the first leaders Debate, saying expectations on him were so low that he won points simply by making it through without collapsing from stress or crying.

The Prime Minister also tried to fend off criticism over a comment she made during the sparring, saying she had spoken over him because he was "having a tantrum".

In the debate, she said during one vigorous exchange over "nanny state" policies: "You might be used to shouting people down at home, but you're not shouting me down" - a comment interpreted by some as insinuating Mr Key shouted at his wife or family.

Yesterday, Mr Key said the comment was "a bit offensive but I wouldn't overstate things. But I don't shout at my wife."

Helen Clark said it was "absolutely not" a comment about his domestic life. It was a reference to his "tantrum-like behaviour".

"What I meant was he was having a tantrum. He was completely out of control trying to shout me down when I was telling the truth about our policy and he was telling fibs about it and I said you're not going to carry on like that."

She tried to deflect the issue by saying the debate was badly moderated by host Mark Sainsbury. She said she believed there was a lack of moderation, which forced her to intervene when her opponent started telling "fibs".

However, Mr Key's performance has injected life back into his campaign after National's lacklustre showing since being blindsided by Labour announcing the bank deposits guarantee at its own launch.

Helen Clark's criticism of the debate comes despite her statement immediately after it that it had been a "good old-fashioned debate" which put paid to any suggestions of bitterness.

Yesterday, she denied her subsequent response was bitter, saying she was simply giving her "professional observations about it in a fairly detached way".

Mr Key was reluctant to be drawn into the matter. He said he had "no complaints" about the way the debate was managed and he felt it was a good opportunity to debate the issues.

He did not believe he had thrown a "tantrum" but said it was up to viewers of the debate to decide how well he had performed.

THEN AND NOW
Helen Clark, immediately after the debate:
It was a good old-fashioned debate on the issues. I hope that means we've banished any idea that this is a bitter kind of election debate. I think people want to hear us being up front, straight on.

Helen Clark, yesterday afternoon:
Expectations were low, firstly because people hadn't seen him in a debate before and secondly because he had a disastrous start to the campaign. So the fact he didn't collapse with a stress attack on the set probably gave him marks.