Spin doctors, journalists and general armchair pundits took to Twitter to provide a running commentary on the first TV leaders' debate between John Key and David Cunliffe. Much of the tweeting was in the name of good fun, but parties were also serious about marshalling social media supporters into action - and shaping the wider election narrative.

Who won? The Twitter consensus, even from right-wing voices, seemed to be David Cunliffe. But even this could be spun, as in this from right-wing pundit Matthew Hooton (@MatthewHootonNZ): "In 2012 @BarackObama lost 1st debate to @MittRomney. Often incumbents do. Like Obama @johnkeypm will beat him in 2nd debate."

From the left, Russell Brown (@publicaddress) offered his verdict: "Cunliffe was well-drilled and his talking-over was strategic. Got some good speeches in. I didn't think Key was bad though. Oddly structured."

Labour MP Annette King (@annetterongotai) was one of many partisans live-tweeting the debate: "That round to Cunliffe Key has his pissed-off face on. Not used to debating issues gets away with smart alec answers in Parliament."


For National, Steven Joyce (@stevenljoyce) tweeted: "David Cunliffe gave up using actual real statistics fairly early on. Now just #makingstuffup. So, no change there then."

Journalists also seemed to be impressed with Cunliffe. Newstalk ZB's Felix Marwick (@felixmarwick) told followers: "Giving the debate to Cunliffe. Noted he had an advisor in the studio giving him help in the ad breaks. No such backing for the PM."

Some tweeters complained about the unscientific nature of TVNZ's text message "poll", which favoured John Key. But TVNZ reporter Garth Bray (@GarthBray) pointed out losing might be winning: "Txt poll irony is, Cunliffe would be pinching himself were Labour to be polling as high as 31% right now."

Pointed humour was never far away. @di_f_w: "After #dirtypolitics, can we really be certain that the 61% for John Key wasn't just Whale Oil sitting in a dark room on his Nokia?"

Another popular line was Key's quip that he knew the names of all those leaving for Australia. Winston Peters' (@winstonpeters) response was, "The PM knows the name of the 80 people who left for Australia last month, yet knows nothing of the GCSB, 'Dirty Politics' operatives etc."

Aunty Shub (@_surlymermaid_) perhaps summed up best why it was such good Twitter fodder: "Leaders debate is just like twitter - they're making random statements, talking over each other, being snarky and big upsing themselves."

Otago University political experts Dr Bryce Edwards (@bryce_edwards) and Geoffrey Miller (@GeoffMillerNZ) are following the impact of Twitter on the election campaign.