Get ready to rumble: the announcement of the election date on September 19 kicks off a massive exercise by all parties to get their campaigns into shape. There are long to-do lists to tick off. The NZ Herald talked to Megan Woods and Paula Bennett - the campaign chairs of Labour and National - to assess their state of readiness on the fundamentals of a campaign, from money to deals to the vibe.
The campaign teams
National's Paula Bennett and Labour's Megan Woods go head to head in the role of campaign chairs – a battle to out-organise and outwit each other.
Both claim to love campaigns.
It will be National's first election since 2005 without Steven Joyce at the helm.
But Bennett will have learned a few tricks at the heels of Joyce as his deputy campaign manager in 2017, as well taking part in National's unsuccessful defence in the Northland byelection of 2016.
Bennett was also in charge of the more successful Northcote byelection in 2018. She is a canny operator politically and claims she has been working on the campaign for the past 12 months.
"It's a huge job, so I don't take that lightly. There's a lot to do. And there's a lot at stake."
Her second-in-command is campaign manager Stu Mullin, who steps into the shoes of National's former experienced manager Jo de Joux.
Mullin has worked on several National Party campaigns and started with National in January, leaving his role at communications firm Baldwin Boyle.
He is described by those who have worked with him as hard-working and unflappable.
National is also backed by experienced party officials – notably president Peter Goodfellow, and general manager Greg Hamilton, who have also been through a fair few campaigns.
Megan Woods has to juggle the role with her job as a senior minister. But she learned at the heels of her political mentor – the late Jim Anderton – who was renowned on the left as an effective campaigner.
She is highly regarded in Labour for her ability to get a grass roots campaign up and running.
Her second in command is campaign manager Hayden Munro.
Munro ran former Wellington Mayor Justin Lester's successful campaign in 2016 and then worked as his political adviser.
Munro got to know Woods through helping on her campaigns in Wigram and was also a press secretary to former Labour leaders David Shearer, David Cunliffe and Andrew Little.
After Labour got into Government in 2017, he left Lester to be Woods' press secretary.
Munro is also regarded as having a cool head – perhaps the most important quality for the role.
The Labour Party has a new executive team with no national election campaigns behind them – party president Claire Szabo was elected last year while Andre Anderson took over as general secretary after the 2017 election.
The campaign vibe
Labour's decision to run a positive campaign is more than just because it is Ardern's "brand".
Labour's polling had shown people generally think the country is heading in the right direction and the party wants to tap into that – much as John Key did in 2011 and 2014.
Bennett said National's campaign will look different to the past.
"We've got a different leader, we've got a different team and I think the country is in a different place than it has been in the last four elections. So, yes, it will look different."
In its social media advertising so far, National has veered to the negative believing that their "attack" ads on issues such as tax and the cost of living reap them rewards.
Bridges' mantra of late has been that voters know National can "get it done" while pointing to Labour's failures in areas it has fallen short.
Thus far, Labour's response to National's ads has been to try to depict them as "fake news" with mixed success.
National leader Simon Bridges has said he will announce "soon" what his preferred governing arrangements are – including whether he will be open to governing with NZ First.
Bridges would not give any hints in advance, but will be wary of National Party supporters thinking they are voting strategically by supporting Winston Peters – either to stop a Labour-Green Government, or give National a partner.
National's goal will be to take the Government benches either alone or with Act given it has no other clear path.
Bridges will also soon set out whether National will again encourage supporters to back Act leader David Seymour in Epsom. It is safe to expect that deal to be renewed given Act's polling has risen slightly, boosting the chances of at least one more MP.
Woods said Labour's top priority was to maximise its own vote and there were no plans to campaign jointly at events with the Greens or NZ First.
"We will be talking about what Labour wants to do, what Labour wants to achieve and that will be very focused on our party rather than the parties of Government.
You don't need to campaign together. When you've shown you have enough shared values to be in Government together, odds on you're not going to be out there attacking each other either."
It is in a clear bid to be a stronger "large" party in Government than its 37 per cent result of 2017 allowed for.
Ardern has said she will not set out in advance which parties she would prefer to work with - although it is rather obvious anyway.
The big question for Labour is whether it will do an Epsom-style deal as a lifeline for NZ First in Northland where the candidate is likely to be Shane Jones.
That could come into play closer to the election if NZ First is struggling to hit the 5 per cent mark in the polls. But the increased popularity of advance voting means no party can afford to leave such decisions too late.
Woods said there was currently no such deal in the offing, but Labour's main focus was on the party vote in every seat.
"It is a conversation that has been had in terms of what is our position going to be. And the position we hold is that we won't be doing electorate deals."
Prior to 2017, Labour and the Greens entered a "memorandum of understanding" to convince people they could govern together. That is no longer considered necessary by either side.
Campaigns cost money. Both parties spent near the spending cap of about $2.3 million in election advertising in 2017, and that does not include back-room costs such as polling, staff campaign travel and staff salaries.
So-called "begging" letters are already flying out to supporters seeking small donations.
National traditionally has the edge in fundraising – often declaring more than double Labour's amount.
But it is a lot easier to get donations in Government than in Opposition, as Woods acknowledged.
She said in 2019, Labour got the most in donations it has ever had in a non-election year – more than $800,000 more than in 2016.
The declarations for 2019 will not be released until April or May, but in 2018 National was still far outstripping Labour – getting almost $750,000 while Labour declared $175,000.
Woods said Labour tended to rely on "micro-donations" of between $5 and $100 which were not declared.
But it has had a few larger donors. Retired High Court judge Robert Smellie is now its largest single donor, but Phillip Mills has also become a regular donor. It also benefited from a $200,000 bequest from Barbara Holt.
The change of leadership to Ardern in 2017 had also delivered a rush of money for that campaign.
Bennett said National did not discuss its funding or donations. "But we are well organised for a campaign."
The candidates and electorate seats
National has selected about 40 candidates so far while Labour has selected 29.
National's new candidates have had a bit more buzz around them – such as former Air NZ boss Chris Luxon.
Both parties have electorates they are hopeful of wresting from the other side. Looming boundary changes and MPs standing down have National hopeful of being able to take out New Lynn and Dunedin South.
Labour believes its MP Kieran McAnulty could have a chance in Wairarapa after the resignation of incumbent, National Party MP Alastair Scott.
Labour is also hoping it will be able to take Nelson off National's long-serving MP Nick Smith this time round.
Both parties will use a lot of social media and have social media professionals on their staff.
While National has had some traction with its "attack" ads on Government policies, Labour has the edge in numbers.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's follower numbers on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter far exceed those of National's Simon Bridges.
Woods said that was not simply preaching to the converted given the "organic reach" as Ardern's followers liked, re-tweeted, and shared her posts into their friends' timelines.
Bridges has said his campaign will be targeting the same "silent majority" as Australia's PM Scott Morrison targeted – many of whom are not on social media.
National could also call on Topham Guerin – the crack social media team which ran Morrison's social media as well as British PM Boris Johnson's campaign.
Sean Topham and Ben Guerin have their roots in the NZ National Party, but are now based in the UK and may not play a major part in the campaign.
Both sides are expected to sign up to Facebook's "transparency" tool which tells users who is being targeted, and who is behind the ad – but does not ensure the ad itself is accurate.
Wider advertising campaign
National is changing its advertising team from those which did its 2011, 2014 and 2017 campaign, led by creative Glenn Jameson.
Those ads included the running ad of 2017 and the rowing ad of 2014, the music for which got National into trouble with Eminem in court.
Those ads both depicted people in the colours of Labour, the Greens and NZ First unable to row or run in harmony.
National's campaign team said it was now in Opposition, and had a new leader and so needed a new approach.
Labour will again use Augusto for their ad production and a second firm - Hunch – for some other creative and strategic work.
Ardern is friends with Augusto's directors, and they worked on the 2017 campaign. Hunch has also done work for Ardern in the past.