The optics are important. Nobody really believes that the leaders’ debates are decisive in changing votes, but they do provide important visual cues to the eventual outcome.
As I’ve written before, prime minister Kevin Rudd has to win the campaign to win the election. On that basis he didn’t ‘win’ last nights encounter with Tony Abbott.
Irrespective of whether notes were against the rules or not - it isn’t a good look to be accused of cheating anyway - reading a prepared opening and closing statement made Kevin Rudd look contrived. Under-prepared. He looked nervous too.
In many respects it reminded me of the 2007 debate against John Howard. Then Mr Rudd looked calm and confident and Mr Howard was trying too hard - last night the roles were reversed. Kevin Rudd was the nervous office-holder staring down the barrel of defeat.
The Herald Sun captures the mood of the debate - dare I say, the vibe of the moment.
Amidst the tedium of a Q and A session, rather than actual debate, there were two moments that reinforced Mr Rudd’s discomfort. Tony Abbott’s comment, “We’re getting the same waffle from Mr Rudd today as we did six years ago” was powerful. Expect to see that theme repeated a lot.
Then Mr Abbott actually laughed at one of Kevin Rudd’s comments. Laughed. That is devastating.
Different media outlets and observers have called different victors - but Kevin Rudd needed an unambiguous victory. He didn’t get that.