Our NZ Herald expert panel give their views after tonight's minor Party leaders' debate in which potential kingmakers and deal breakers the Green Party, Act, Maori Party and United Future squared off in a discussion moderated by TVNZ's Corin Dann.
Marama Fox looked like she had stepped off the set of the opera Carmen.
Resplendent in red and with flowers in her hair, the Maori Party co-leader dominated the multi-leaders debate like the political diva that she is.
The mother of nine was at her strongest defending national standards against the Greens' James Shaw who kept talking about teacher unions instead of kids.
Shaw was accomplished and relaxed, but almost too relaxed for someone whose Party is hovering not far above oblivion.
Winston Peters' boycott denied the public a chance to see that he is still well up to it and denied himself the chance to answers Shaw's attacks.
Act's David Seymour nobly went into bat for picked-on farmers although host Corin Dann had the best line: Who pays for our lifestyle in the city? The rural sector isn't it?
United Future's new leader good humouredly hoped for the Damian Light effect to begin, but really, he had no place being there under TVNZ's inflexible rules.
Winner: Marama Fox
Loser: Damian Light
• Audrey Young is New Zealand Herald political editor
In a campaign of capsizes, this was the lifeboat debate. Gareth Morgan had failed to squeeze in. Winston Peters chose to swim. Of those aboard, the one arguably most certain of being in parliament come October, David Seymour, leads a party that just polled 0.1%.
Corin Dann guided some good discussions, on water and education especially, but the debate never really fired up. Marama Fox was uncharacteristically subdued. Seymour was belligerent. James Shaw looked mostly bemused. And the one from United Future seemed bewildered to be there at all - like an Uber driver who had wandered into the wrong room.
The NZ First leader might have wiped the floor, but he spurned the prime-time invitation, as he did in the last similar televised debate. He's a "bad date", said Shaw, in the funniest line of the night, but Peters wasn't there to bite back.
Winner: James Shaw
Loser: Winston Peters
• Toby Manhire is a New Zealand Herald columnist
HEATHER DU PLESSIS ALLAN
Humour was conspicuous by its absence. There's little for the minor party leaders to joke about. At least three of the four are fighting for their parliamentary survival.
Shaw was passionless and gave the appearance of remembering lines. His best play was latching himself as an old friend onto flavour-of-the-month Ardern.
Fox showed off her intelligence and grasp of policy, but lacked her usual warmth and humour. She made it clear her party would prefer to support a Labour-led government.
You had to feel for Light. He was clearly nervous, spoke too fast, struggled to control his facial expressions, and almost gave his party credit for negotiating 'the final solution' over the foreshore and seabed deal.
Seymour was a class act. He bravely labelled Ardern as 'light weight', challenged his opponents, injected humour and stole opportunities to talk about his policies. He showed a good grasp of everything thrown at him, including suggesting trade-able rights to solve the water ownership issue.
Winner: David Seymour
Loser: Damian Light
• Heather du Plessis-Allan Herald on Sunday columnist