Analysis: Christopher Luxon worked the lounge at the Jean Sandal retirement village on Friday to the point his staff had to nearly drag him out.
Someone in the kitchen was either making a joke or missed the nationally broadcast memo that sausage rolls are a favourite of the other Chris when serving them for morning tea – either way they seemed to be popular with the residents.
There was no time for morning tea for Luxon though, he was on a mission around the room to talk to as many people as he could.
To be fair, Luxon doesn’t seem to ever take part in the actual eating of food or drinking of cups of tea at any campaign trail events. The exact opposite of Chris Hipkins who seems to have dedicated half his days to doing so.
Luxon is clearly serious when he says he’s watching his weight – ducking out before anyone can give him a sandwich or pastry and passing on ice-creams to journalists insisting, they deserve it more.
When Luxon is in a room he doesn’t want to waste any time eating and drinking that could be time spent talking or actively listening.
At the retirement home in New Plymouth Luxon spent an hour talking to the 75 gathered (150 seats had been put out but as one resident told Newsroom, many were still in their homes watching the rugby and the rest would have struggled to be up and ready by 9.30am).
Those who came were attentive, nodded along, and all seemed to like what they saw.
Luxon spent 10 minutes saying a quick ‘Hi’ to a dozen of them before dishing out his well-rehearsed and memorised speech about what will get New Zealand back on track.
Then came the extrovert’s favourite bit of campaigning – long conversations about where people came from, their profession, what’s bothering them, and how he can help them.
He has a remarkable ability to shut out the cameras, microphones, and reporters around him, and just talk one-on-one.
At one-point Luxon was crouched down next to 103-year-old, Jean Lewis, and the conversation went on and on to the point everyone had left him and gone off to talk to others.
Newsroom sat down just along from the pair and listened to a conversation that bounced from the fact they both lived in Christchurch, to the respective parts of the United Kingdom (down to every village) their relatives had descended from, then on to teachers who had made a difference in their lives, and how many grandchildren and great-grandchildren Lewis has.
The chat lasted nearly 10 minutes and, throughout, Lewis held tightly onto Luxon’s hand and he leant into her good ear so she could hear him above the rest of the chatter.
Lewis told Newsroom afterwards that he was everything she thought he would be from what she’d seen on television.
“Wonderful,” is how she described getting to meet him.
Another two women told Newsroom they thought he was of “strong” character, and they’d heard everything they wanted to about how he’d fix things up.
“He’s talking to the converted here, to be fair,” one acknowledged.
And what about Winston Peters, were they fans of him too?
Neither favoured him over Luxon – they’re both long-time National fans – but admitted they found the New Zealand First leader “charismatic and charming” but knew he’d be trouble in any coalition with Luxon.
They backed the former chief executive to keep Peters in check though.
It’s a question that’s going to keep coming up for Luxon.
The 1News Verian poll on Wednesday and the Taxpayer’s Union Curia poll on Friday both continue to show New Zealand First being needed for National and Act to form a government.
Luxon maintains he doesn’t know Peters and so won’t engage in questions about whether he trusts him.
Peters and Act leader David Seymour made it clear they don’t trust National on its tax plan when they were asked to raise their hand in Thursday night’s TVNZ multi-party debate if they thought it was credible.
Neither leader so much as lifted a finger.
Newsroom asked Luxon if it hurts having them both say it doesn’t stack up.
He fell back on safe lines saying, “I’m very comfortable with our tax plan”.
Put to him that Seymour, his “preferred coalition partner”, doesn’t think his maths adds up, Luxon replied, “with respect our plan does add up and it’s a good plan.”
Luxon’s given up trying to explain or defend the numbers and is now just hoping voters believe him when he says it adds up.
With just eight days to go until the election Luxon will keep saying he doesn’t know who Peters is, he’ll continue to roll out his stump speeches to the converted and impress in the flesh right up until October 14.
As former Prime Minister Bill English shared with Hipkins not long after he took on the job, 50 percent of it is ceremonial and the other 50 is making decisions no one else is willing to make.
Luxon is a natural with the ceremonial and public persona bit, and in a week’s time he’ll find out if he’s about to start having to make the tough decisions as well.
The first one might yet be, what to do with Winston Peters.