Prime Minister Helen Clark and National Party leader John Key have refused to share the stage with other party leaders in an election campaign TV debate.
They say only their head to head debates really matter because one or the other will lead the next government.
TV3 and TVNZ wanted the leaders of all eight parties represented in Parliament to take part in an MMP debate, which has happened in previous campaigns.
But the two leaders refused, and did not change their minds when both networks asked them to reconsider.
This seems like a poor decision on both parts. Back in 2005 Helen Clark benefitted greatly from having Jim Anderton on the stage during the leaders debate. Anderton savagely attacked Don Brash, Brash blinked furiously in retaliation and Clark got to rise above it all and look dignified and leaderlike.
For Key’s part, going up against Helen Clark on his own is a huge risk. John Key seems like a nice, fairly bright guy but he cannot think on his feet and his media performances have been getting worse, not better over the last few months.
If Key were behind in the polls it would be a risk worth taking – but he’s miles ahead. He has nothing to gain and everything to lose if he gets ripped to shreds by a feral Clark on live TV. If the other leaders were there the Clark-Key confrontation would be diluted down by their presence.
Meanwhile, the first McCain-Obama debate is set for tonight. Neither candidate did very well in the primary debates (which indicate just how small a role these things actually play in the campaign). Senator Obama also performed very poorly at the Saddleback forum last month. He’ll have spent most of the week doing debate prep, the onus is on him to perform well. American’s already know and admire Senator McCain, Obama has yet to really prove himself.
UPDATE: The Economist will be scoring the debate:
• One style point from either candidate for each promise to kill Osama bin Laden.
• One point from Mr Obama for any long answer that sounds smart and seems to mean nothing.
• One point from Mr McCain for any short answer that feels bracing but unconsidered. Exception: “We do not torture.”
• Five points from each candidate for smug self-righteousness, deducted automatically before the first question is asked.
• Ten points from Mr Obama for invoking “the speculators who attacked us on 9/11″.
• Ten points from Mr McCain if he sings.