Prime Minister John Key and Leader of the Opposition David Cunliffe faced off in round two of the pre-election debates in Christchurch this evening, but who came out on top? The Herald's top political correspondents make their picks.

Fran O'Sullivan
Winner: John Key

John Key was pumped with all the energy of a barrow boy ramping up the fear factor about Labour's"five new taxes" and catching David Cunliffe out when it came to the detail on Labour's capital gains tax.

He neutralised the Kim Dotcom threat and distanced himself from Cameron Slater.

Cunliffe emphasied the people factor and scored points on Christchurch notably with his line accusing Key of playing the "schoolyard larrikin" which people families were suffering but his tone was oddly dischordant with Labour's 'Vote Positive' slogan.


Audrey Young
Winner: John Key

Lightening does strike twice. Key won The Press debate three years ago when Goff didn't know the answer to a question, the "show me the money" moment. It happened again in tonight's debate when Cunliffe didn't know the answer to a question to his own capital gains tax and trusts.

Key answered the question himself. It was a calculated ambush and it wounded Cunliffe. You felt embarrassed for him. You could say it was Key at his best, if it weren't for the fact he was wrong in fact.

Hard to imagine but capital gains tax gazumped talking dirty politics.

Toby Manhire
Winner: John Key

It wasn't quite a repeat of the "show me the money" line that came to define the Key-Goff Press debate in 2011, but when John Key challenged David Cunliffe on homes, family trusts and capital gains, he knocked him off his stride. A palpable hit. Cunliffe needed an ad break. This town-hall-style event wasn't for TV, however, but the internet.

Key knew he'd hurt him, and risked growing too cocky and sneery - "whatever", "buddy", and all that. Before the interval, the PM was forced on the back foot over the Dirty Politics, but came out mostly unscathed.

The second part majored on post-quake Christchurch, and Cunliffe was, unsurprisingly, the more popular speaker. In the debate's most heated and declamatory moment, on the subject of rents, Cunliffe came out on top. Each tried to suggest the other was taking the plight of the People of Christchurch lightly, but Cunliffe had the best line here: "You can play the schoolyard larrikin all you like."


Technically, the livestream was a bit of a mess, with the audio and video head-spinningly out of synch for the first half, like a cheaply dubbed foreign-language film.

The greatest disappointment, however, was that when John Key spoke of the sacrifices (and fastidious tidiness) of his mother, and Cunliffe hit back by paying tribute to all the mothers, no one in the crowd thought to holler, "Show me the mummy!"

Overall? Cunliffe had more gravitas, but someone had fitted Key with a fresh set of batteries. Key by a whisker.

John Armstrong
Winner: John Key

Slaughter-time. For the second time in successive elections, a Labour leader has come a cropper at the hands of John Key during the Christchurch Press leaders' debate.

For Phil Goff, it was being unable to say where the money was coming from; for David Cunliffe it was detail about how Labour's capital gains tax would apply to homes in family trusts. Cunliffe could not provide an answer. He should have known.

Cunliffe froze. He bore the demeanour of a freshly-killed sheep hanging from a hook on the chain at the local freezing works. Worse for Cunliffe, unlike last week's TVNZ debate, the real Key actually turned up last night - and with some welcome mea culpa on Dirty Politics. As a contest, it was all over by half-time.

Read more of the Herald's coverage of the debate
PM condemns blogger during leaders' debate
Second debate: As it happened