First round to Cunliffe

VERNON SMALL
Last updated 15:46 26/08/2013
David Cunliffe
Fairfax NZ
LEADERSHIP RACE: David Cunliffe appears to be ahead of the pack.

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OPINION: The names are in, and it's round one to David Cunliffe.

The New Lynn MP threw his hat in the ring to lead the Labour party at a press conference this afternoon joining Grant Robertson and the clear underdog Shane Jones in a three way fight.

The contrast in their announcements was stark.

Robertson chose a relatively low-key approach; a carefully pre-arranged deal with the two television channels to hit the evening news at six on Sunday and one-on-one interviews with other media and a press release.

Jones did it through one exclusive interview and then a series of radio slots including with his mates Willie Jackson and John Tamihere, which he carried off with panache. No sign of a press release or written statement.

Cunliffe made his splash in his electorate office with all the media invited and a gaggle of supporters to clap and cheer.

Flanked by caucus backers, including Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway and Hauraki-Waikato MP Nanaia Mahuta who signed his nomination form, he took questions and made a strong policy stance: "You bet" he said when asked if he would raise taxes.

The "big mo" - momentum - is clearly with Cunliffe now, underscored by the TVNZ snap poll on Sunday that had him polling 29 per cent , three times Robertson's level of support.

Both have been hammering the message about unity, post the run-off, and sprinkle their messages with the word "new" at every opportunity.

Robertson started the race as the front runner, with a clear lead in the caucus, the biggest affiliated union the EPMU leaning his way and a reasonable slice of the membership, especially South of Auckland.

Cunliffe started on the back foot with a minority in caucus, an edge but maybe not a huge one with the membership and the unions mostly "in play".

But less than four days into the post-Shearer era it is already looking like an uphill battle for Robertson to grab back the initiative.

His chance will come during the upcoming public meetings, starting in Levin on Saturday.

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