How pundits called the first leaders' debate

Against the expectations of angry petitioners (or in keeping with expectations for anyone who watched TVNZ’s 2014 debate), the usually showboating Mike Hosking reined things in for a solid performance as moderator. Again like 2014, if anything he over-compensated, arguably being tougher on Bill English than Jacinda Ardern (his opening question to the PM was "Why are you losing?").

Here’s how various candidates called the actual contest:

Rob Hosking (NBR): DRAW
“Mr English and Ms Ardern were relatively restrained throughout the TVNZ-televised debate. Frankly, I'd call it a draw. Both leaders are still to some degree reconnoitring the political terrain, testing each other’s strengths and weaknesses. So there was no king hit from either.”

Rachel Smalley (NewstalkZB) ARDERN
“She won last night's debate but not overwhelmingly. English, I think, was rattled by that poll result. This is National's election to lose, and given John Key's overwhelming dominance in the polls over the past eight years or so, you've got to ask what's changed. Well, it's the leadership, and English knows this is on his shoulders.”

Tim Murphy (Newsroom) ENGLISH
“Her debut was something like Jordie Barrett's first start for the All Blacks against the Lions. Young, a bit lopey and occasionally off balance, not quite all there yet but showing every sign of being the real deal. You sense that next time she can get better. English possibly not" (Murphy later told NBR "It was a narrow win for English.")

Mark Jennings (Newsroom) DRAW
“Last night’s TVNZ’s leaders debate should have been spectacular. Rarely has the scene been so well set for a debate so eagerly anticipated. But somehow it fell flat. The production values were low … [It] lacked any sense of theatre or drama. The audience, small, mute and mainly sitting in the dark, might as well not have been there.”

Barry Soper (NewstalkZB) DRAW
“These two lack the mongrel.”

Audrey Young (NZ Herald) ARDERN
It was a highly credible debut as potential prime minister alongside a seasoned operator and she gets the win.

Liam Dann (NZ Herald) ENGLISH
“Neither sounded particularly credible on house building. English was shaky on wage growth. Overall though, he appeared largely unrattled by the big poll and put in a polished performance, enough to put him marginally ahead on points.”

Toby Manhire (NZ Herald/The Spinoff) ARDERN
“It was Ardern's night. And Hosking? He was excellent in 2014. Even better this time.”

Heather du Plessis-Allan (NZ Herald) ARDERN
"Someone clearly told English to smile. He explained why National is losing and smiled. He warned about Labour's tax cuts and smiled. He defended New Zealand's poor productivity and he smiled. But he couldn't look at Ardern. Even when he talked to her, he could only manage a side-eye.

“Ardern was expected to shine. She did. English was expected to flounder. He didn't. Ardern won but English didn't lose by much.”

Janesa Jeram (The NZ Initiative/Stuff): ENGLISH

"Bill was surprisingly upbeat given tonight's poll, and could give policies that should make sense to New Zealanders across the country. Whereas Jacinda struggled to sell some of Labour's more theoretical, less fleshed out policies."

Liam Hehir (Stuff): ARDERN
“Neither combatant landed a knockout blow, but there was more positive here for Ardern than there was for English – so it is a victory on points to her.”

Associate Professor Grant Duncan (Massey/Stuff) DRAW
"In terms of which leader looked and sounded more prime ministerial, then Bill won. In terms of how well they addressed the complex policy issues, on the other hand, it was, as I predicted, an honourable draw."