'Tough and tight' election for National?

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 05:00 26/05/2014
Waitangi
CHRIS SKELTON/Fairfax NZ

HEAT IS ON: Prime Minister John Key and Labour Leader David Cunliffe.

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OPINION: It is not just David Cunliffe who was delivered a headache by last night's polls showing the gap widening between Labour and National.

Talking to 250 party faithful in Hamilton yesterday, Prime Minister John Key was at pains to tell them the next election was going to be tough and it was going to be tight.

Some delegates might have wondered if they were on a different planet after watching the TV news bulletins last night.

Both the 3News and One News Colmar Brunton polls had National at around 50 per cent - enough to govern alone if the result was replicated on election night.

But Key has good reason to be worried.

As he reminded the rank and file, National polled 47 per cent at the last election while Labour crashed to its worst defeat ever - but in the end, the difference between governing and not was just one seat.

Key's nightmare scenario is National voters assuming the result in September is a done deal and seeing no need to vote. That's the reason for some of the more extreme rhetoric around the Labour-Greens block being a "far left" alternative.

Key has to motivate National's softer support into believing too much is at stake not to vote.

But apathy is also Labour's nightmare.

Its strategy relies heavily on motivating its foot soldiers to turn out in areas like South Auckland and mobilise the vote in booths where turnout has fallen in recent years.

So far that strategy appears to be working, with party insiders believing they are already on track to mobilise thousands more voters.

But it gets harder to give the foot soldiers a reason to get out of bed when a party is polling at or below the morale-busting 30 per cent threshold.

More demoralising for Labour will be the fact that National has emerged from its one of its worst periods ever.

The ongoing saga surrounding Judith Collins, and resignation of Maurice Williamson, appears to have had no impact. If anything, National has had a post-budget lift.

Key's explanation for that to the party faithful yesterday was simple; the "desperate housewives" stories might make good headlines, but they did not sway voters.

The things that did sway voters came down to a three step formula, he suggested: What is your track record? What are you going to do for me? And, finally, showing that you are in touch with voters and "can walk in their shoes".

As politicians start the countdown to the September 20 election, expect to hear plenty about all three from both sides.

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