The see-saw nature of election campaigns is all about testing how would-be prime ministers withstand pressure. And, right now, the pressure is really piling on John Key big-time.
Following a less than ecstatic reception for National's tax policy, Key's week has ended with a nightmare confluence of events: two polls showing the gap between National and Labour narrowing dramatically on the day the Serious Fraud Office cleared Winston Peters, the man with whom Key refuses to deal, of any suggestion of fraud.
Suddenly, Key's Sunday launch of National's campaign takes on a whole new significance. He cannot afford a flop.
Key's cause may have been helped had the Prime Minister reinstated Peters as foreign minister following the SFO's announcement. But that was never going to happen.
Indeed. Armstrong is quite right to say that the PM was never going to reinstate Peters this close to the election - it suits her agenda to have him at arm's length. And although National's economic package has drawn mixed reviews, Armstrong should be noting that at least National should be commended for putting up, unlike Labour which has meekly accepted the inevitability of 10 years of deficits. But Armstrong suggests that Peters may be Key's biggest worry just now:
There is a feeling that the NZ First bandwagon could be about to start rolling. The SFO's decision releases the brakes. What Peters needs now is to find the defining issue to keep him at the heart of things rather than being pushed to the fringes by the ugly, but attention-absorbing wrestling match between the two major ones.
If he does, the pressure on Key not to lose what has looked for so long like the unlosable election will be terrifying in its intensity.
Keeping Stock doesn't even want to consider the possibility of a Phoenix-like rise from Peters!!