The first TVNZ Leaders' Debate between Labour's Chris Hipkins and National's Christopher Luxon has been ruled a draw by experts.
1News deputy political editor Maiki Sherman, former Labour leader David Cunliffe and former MP Tau Henare – who has represented both NZ First and National in Parliament – gave their verdicts after the debate.
Henare began by calling the clash "boring" and "mild".
Sherman said Hipkins "could have brought a lot more fight, a lot more mongrel".
And Cunliffe said: "Chris Hipkins needed to win this outright because he's behind.
"I think it was close to a draw, I think Chippy [Chris Hipkins] was at his best when he was chipping.
"But in the first half of the debate, he gave far too much free run to Luxon, who made the best of it."
Sherman agreed that Luxon was "way more assertive" and said it "ankle-tapped" Hipkins, throwing him off.
But she wondered if that was part of a strategy by Hipkins: "On the campaign, we have seen him fiery, he has been taking every dig that he can get at the National Party leader, perhaps he didn't want to come in too hot."
Henare said the debate lacked an "Up the Wahs moment", agreeing with Sherman and Cunliffe that Hipkins was "too mild".
Economic plans assessed
Asked about the leaders' clash over their economic plans, Cunliffe called the exchange "a lose-lose".
"Chris Hipkins did not want to talk about the signature policy, GST off vegetables," he said. "Christopher Luxon was trying to frame him up on it.
"Christopher Luxon's numbers don't appear to add up unless you sell half of Auckland to foreigners, which people don't want."
He said neither party is offering real tax reform: "Both of the leaders are missing the boat."
Crime and justice
Henare said Hipkins was "very good in terms of hitting the back" during the leaders' debate over crime.
"The key for Luxon was, he actually got his lines out," he added. "And he looked assertive."
Sherman said: "Christopher Luxon had very short, sharp, snappy lines tonight.
"Chris Hipkins in comparison had very long-winded, waffly lines, and it just loses people at home."
Cunliffe said National won the crime section, and Luxon was targeting the right of the political spectrum by "stoking fear".
"He's trying to pull them back in on law and order issues because he's worried about the size of the ACT vote," he said.
Sherman said it was "telling" that Hipkins didn't hit back when Luxon claimed that gangs support Labour.
"That was an absolute dog whistle," she said. "And Chris Hipkins just let it slide completely."
Henare turned to the Rugby World Cup for inspiration when summarising.
"Tonight, I think the Nats [National] are like France in the opening game of the World Cup, Labour are like the All Blacks," he said.
"They [Labour] sort of made some mistakes, they looked alright in some parts."
In that game, the All Blacks suffered a 27-13 loss.
"They're gonna have to go to the next one and they're gonna have to get down and dirty," Henare said.
"They're gonna have to unleash whatever they've got in the tank because it doesn't look good at the moment."
Ultimately, when asked to pick a winner or loser, the panel said the debate ended level.
"There's no winner, no loser, I actually think it is a draw," Henare said. "They sort of sound the same and even look the same."
Sherman said the next two debates would be crucial.
"On the issue of substance, Hipkins," she said. "But, I think those snap lines from Luxon probably resonated a bit more."
Cunliffe said: "Tactical draw. Strategically, Labour's still got to pull some rabbits out of the hat."