Amelia Wade campaign match report: Chris Hipkins is up for the challenge, but could do with an energy drink

ANALYSIS: It was a challenging day for Chris Hipkins. In every sense of the word.

His Friday speech as Prime Minister to a Wellington business crowd came at the end of a week he'd spent explaining bad polls and why his team were sharing mistruths about their political enemies. What's more, it was early.

But he was back wearing his Prime Ministerial hat that's become a comfortable wear and one he doesn't want to part with. 

Hipkins now has to convince a tired public that he should be the one to keep wearing it, even though it's getting a little worn and there's a shiny new - but untested - option just one tickbox away. 

The speech wasn't exactly inspiring but it hit familiar notes and when the call went out for questions, it looked for a second like there might be none. 

But then a few hands went up and he was challenged about why he didn't trust early childhood providers and by other business woes.

It was then off to meet refugees who were learning English just across town. Hipkins was there to support Wellington Central candidate Ibrahim Omer - who was a refugee himself. Hipkins had taken the tie off and put his Labour leader hat on but the students, proudly wearing the clothes of their own countries, challenged him as Prime Minister.

Their housing was crowded and expensive, their education was too expensive and their families were stuck in the homelands they'd fled from. Some spoke in their African first languages and Omer - impressively - was able to translate. Hipkins listened but stopped short of making promises. Afterwards, they posed for photos.

Ohariu candidate Greg O'Connor then did Hipkins a bit dirty. He said he'd wanted to take Hipkins to the industrial heart of his electorate so had organised a visit to a ferry repair shop.

While open to showing Hipkins around, they were clearly not open to supporting him. The manager grumbled during the tour about the lack of government support and outside a neighbouring business owner said he didn't like "that lady" - Jacinda Ardern - whose job Hipkins was handed.

After the tour, Hipkins went upstairs for a cuppa and a chat out of earshot from the media. But through the large windows, it looked tense. 

Afterwards, the manager said what he wanted was tax cuts and the Government to spend less. At least the golden retriever there, Chica, was friendly.

Hipkins later made the point he didn't just want to meet people who were supporters but challenge those whose votes he couldn't count on.

It's admirable and worthy to be challenged. Hipkins is good at it. He (mostly) enjoys media interviews and can (mostly) agree disagreeably with those who don't like what he's done.

He can handle the pressure of being criticised (which Christopher Luxon cannot - his right eye twitches) which Prime Ministers face multiple times daily. Every single decision they make is challenged from every side - they have to show their working. Hipkins too is open to having his mind changed. But it's hard work.

Luxon visits safe businesses - clearly National supporters and he feeds off the positivity - while Hipkins' strategy of changing minds is a far more draining activity and it shows.

There is a palpable feeling of a want for change. It's a very tough mountain to climb, even in spring conditions. It requires huge energy.

Labour has built its campaign around Hipkins being an ordinary Kiwi, just like you. But being ordinary doesn't really lend itself to campaigning. There's a lot of very awkward, uncomfortable and unnatural stuff you have to do - saying the same lines over and over and over again to drill messages into people's brains and do things for the sake of being seen doing them.

Inviting a mob of media to capture you just walk down the street for a 'walkabout', with camera operators walking backwards, reporters holding microphones in your face and photographers orbiting snapping the chaos is very weird.

But if Kiwis see you in the news and in the newspapers meeting with Kiwis they too think they can meet you.

Hipkins hasn't mastered the show of the walkabout and is painfully awkward. 

Luxon has no qualms asking mundane questions for the sake of it, while Hipkins defaults to silence or simply only asking people if they want a photo. 

But when the cameras are distracted, he turns on. He's warm and asks questions without trying to prove a point. With the cameras on, he clams up and seems unable to force it. Chug an energy drink! Ask some questions! Fake it! Look alive, Chippy!

On Saturday it seemed like he got what he needed - a day in the sun in his home base, Remutaka, one of the safest red seats in the country. Dressed in plaid rather than an obviously brand-new All Blacks jersey, he caught the game (helpfully next to the Sports Minister explaining plays). The crowd was disappointed with the loss but happy to see sturdy Hipkins.

"He's good under pressure - not like Luxon," one woman said.

Chris Hipkins on the campaign trail.
Chris Hipkins on the campaign trail. Photo credit: Newshub.

At the Spring Fest, Hipkins said his many hellos to people he actually knew, asked some stall owners about their wares and asked many, many people if they wanted photos. Not everyone did.

Campaigning is obviously more than small talk. 

It's answering hard questions, public televised debates - earning power. Hipkins' team is expecting him to excel in areas Luxon flails at.

But the other Chris is match fit for the election trail. This year he's spoken to thousands of people at more than 20 meetings building muscle memory for the campaign. 

At the starting pistol Luxon was away and sprinting while eating icecreams and riding jetboats, leaving Hipkins behind and just warming up.

Amelia Wade is a senior Newshub political reporter.