OPINION: As June neared its end, Prime Minister John Key warned the National Party faithful about the perils of complacency.
"There's no constitutional reason why the parties to the left of us can't all hold hands, and if they can get to 61 seats, then they will be the government on September 21. That is the reality."
At the time, people listening to this speech probably had confidence levels approaching those that supporters of the All Blacks may have felt at half-time in Saturday's rugby test against the Wallabies. Barring any remarkable change of fortunes, the game was as good as won.
Right now, there is no need for Key to deliver warnings about the general election result being seen as a foregone conclusion.
The blowtorch has been applied in the form of Nicky Hager's Dirty Politics book and mainstream media climbing on the bandwagon.
From National's perspective, the content of the book is less important than whether the fallout can be contained, whether the Key brand has lost its lustre and whether the party is starting to look like one on the slide.
That's the backdrop to the release of National's housing policy and campaign launch yesterday.
The party is eager to draw a line under the Hager business, recapture the momentum and set the agenda.
The task may not be as difficult as it initially seems.
The election is still weeks away and the focus on Dirty Politics will have faded by then.
Moreover, there is not yet much evidence of the general mood being for a change of government.
National's handling of the economy, for example, has been sure-footed enough for there to be considerable doubt that a Labour-led coalition would do a better job.
Labour leader David Cunliffe has had a bit to say about Dirty Politics but his challenge is to turn any lingering discontent with National into support for Labour.
The next opinion polls should give us a good idea of how much damage the Hager revelations have done to the Right.
Even so, Key's opponents will know he is capable of weathering storms and his folksy style would appear to remain an asset.
Cunliffe will be no pushover in the televised debates but Key will have no shortage of motivation to perform well there.
What should be remembered about 2011 is that Labour had quite a good campaign and it didn't cut much ice. Many voters, clearly, were not tired of Key.
We shall see on September 20 whether they have changed their minds.
- Manawatu Standard
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