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Out on the campaign trail

Tuesday 9th September 2014

Last night I dreamt that Judith Collins and Peter Dunne eloped. The two packed their bags and high-tailed it to Vegas.

TV3’s Patrick Gower stepped in as celebrant.

I wish I could tell you Colin Craig made an appearance – it seems as good a place as any for him to turn up – but alas, I woke too soon.

Three weeks chasing MPs from city to city, watching their every move, step, breath, and they start to impede on your slumber.

It’s ludicrous, of course, a Pete and Judy coalition, but perhaps not much more so than the actual campaign to date.

Craig McCulloch’s spent so much time following politicians he’s even dreamed about Judith Collins (pictured) eloping with Peter Dunne.

Photo: Luke Appleby

Accusations of subterfuge. A sudden resignation. Pam Corkery. It has all the makings of a made-for-TV drama.

Even so, I never predicted this: Me, in only my undies, in a dark room, with Russel Norman.

No. This is not a dream. There I am, in my Macpherson Mens, hopping on one foot, squeezing into what I'm pretty sure is a woman’s wetsuit. 

This is a day on the campaign.

I haven’t stripped to my daks for nothing. I’m about to go rafting with Russel and several other reporters down the Mohaka River.

That sounds less sordid and more intrepid; in fact its neither. We spend most of the time gently floating down the waterway, while Dr Norman talks about pollution, dirty dairying and foreign ownership. The hardest bit is trying to row without dropping my microphone into the water.

Not every day is like this of course. Some are spent visiting businesses or touring industrial sites. Ive worn enough hi-vis to last a lifetime. Other days we trail the party leaders through crowded malls.

The campaign is striking in that it often features remarkable events bookended by the tedious.

The morning of Judith Collins’ resignation, John Key is on a rugby field in Lower Hutt. He wanders from parent to grandparent, stopping every few metres for photos with the young players.

“My son, Max, plays in the under 90kg grade,” he tells anyone who’ll listen.

 

He gives no hint that he’s just come from a phone call with the Justice Minister, a conversation that ended with “former” being prefixed to her title.

By the time I hear any whisper that something is afoot, Mr Key’s already in his Crown car and away. His press secretary fires off a media release from the car: an urgent conference back at the Beehive.

It's unprecedented, a ministerial resignation so close to an election. And Mr Key faced a barrage of questions, none easy, for nearly half an hour.

But then it was over, and he was off, back to another mall for more selfies, smiles, and small talk. As if nothing had ever happened. As if it were a dream.

Small talk can be awkward at the best of times, let alone with a pack of journalists hovering less than a metre away. I, for one, like to carry a floury apple on my person at all times in case of a small talk emergency. But the National leader has it down to a fine art.

“What do you study?” he asks a student.

“What’s the population of Gisborne?” he asks punters in Gisborne.

“Have I told you about my son Max?”

David Cunliffe has his own style, loud and lively. “Kia ora, brother! Kia orana!”

He bounds round the Otara Market, a red and green lei on his shoulders. “Coalition colours!” he says. “Red with a touch of green. No purple!”

 

One woman approaches. “Do you like Maoris?” she asks, in perhaps my favourite of all opening questions. She’d voted Maori Party last election, but was considering other options. Mr Cunliffe hurriedly assures her that he does, in fact, like Maoris.

The retiring Labour MP, Ross Robertson, marches at Mr Cunliffe’s side, yelling at people to come meet “the next leader of New Zealand”.

They’re bold words. In West Auckland, a reverend compares John Key to Jesus as he enters a church to a crowd of singing children. I think Messiah trumps Prime Minister.

The campaign, by its nature, is transitory, made more so by the flying visits to towns around the country. To date, I’ve ticked off Auckland, Hamilton, Raglan, Gisborne, New Plymouth, Napier, Wellington, and Christchurch.

I’m confident I’ll soon know the in-flight trivia quiz by heart. For the record, it was Prince Edward who opened the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Auckland. The more you know.

The Koru Lounge has become my second office, somewhere to scoff a bread roll, while pounding at my keyboard, headphones on, filing for the upcoming bulletin. Greg Murphy sits opposite, while one of the Topp Twins plays Meat Loaf through her smartphone speakers at the end of the table.

Every now and then I pinch myself.

Just once have I almost missed a flight. My alarm, set for 5am, decided not to go off, and so I continued in my deep sleep.

I jerked awake an hour later to my ringing phone – the taxi company calling to say the driver was waiting outside.

A less frenzied observer would’ve noted the irony in my ringtone, chirping the chorus of ‘All I Do Is Win’ as I scrambled from my bed in a panic.

I made it to the airport just in time, albeit sans shower or dental hygiene, and still half-asleep.

I dozed on the flight to Auckland; dreamt of Colin Craig atop a racehorse. I knew he’d turn up eventually.