Tonight was the first leader's debate of this campaign.. minus all those pesky minority parties, of course. Going into it I had three real main questions: 1) Was Clark going to live up to her reputation as a political giant? 2) Was Key going to "Brash it", or actually give a real showing? 3) Were they going to be made to answer any real questions?
Quite frankly, I think Sainsbury got handed his balls on a platter. The man couldn't control them, he was completely ineffectual. Willie Jackson did a better job stopping Peters and Hooton killing each other on Eye to Eye. I don't think Clark lived up to her reputation. She was strong, yes, but talking over top of him made her look like she was literally having to compete with him for attention. Also, her personal digg - shouting at home - was appalling, and berating him about the Springbok tour made her look like she was living in the past.
She was strong on presenting her experience and she perhaps made up for the perceived disparity between their ability to handle the economic crisis by talking decisively about a post-economic plan. I was disappointed to see her dodging so many questions, though, especially the ones from the Maori commentator and specifically the one regarding 1/2 of all Maori boys leaving school without NCEA Level One by appearing to claim that she herself and come up with the idea of the apprenticeship.
I was abundantly impressed with Key. Yes, I'm partisan, but as a debater I thought he was impressive. He was knowledgeable - he answered questions instead of reverting to points and he gave lots of detail which is normally a Clark speciality. He was confident and forthright. He really had to come out and present himself as a man who could be the next leader of our country and I felt he did that. Yes, he gave in to the squabble a bit and I cringed at that but I thought he gained a lot more than he gave away. He pulled her up on Climate Change which was great to see and he definitely redeemed the party post the Brash massacre of '05.
Finally, were they made to answer any real questions? I think the YouTube thing was an interesting idea, but I hope the next debate is purely moderator - one with some stones, hopefully - driven. The commentators asked some hard questions but they weren't really forced to answer them. Yes, that's politics, but I would like to see someone really stick it to them and force them to get specific. They focussed mainly on domestic policy, but that's fair enough because in a country this size that's where elections are won and lost.
I'll be interested to see who gets declared the winner by impartial consensus - I think it was fairly evenly matched but I'd say Key gained a lot whereas Clark lost just a little too much by not coming out as the strong force we expect. So far the Herald has called it 2/3 for Key, but I'll be intrigued to see what the TVNZ poll says.