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Ardern launches NZ election campaign

Jacinda Ardern has kicked off her bid for re-election with a supporting speech from fiance Clarke Gayford but without bold pledges for her second term.

Ms Ardern returned to ground zero of ‘Jacindamania’, Auckland Town Hall, to launch her party’s 2020 campaign for the September 19 poll.

Three years earlier, Ms Ardern stood on this same stage as an untested opposition leader, just three weeks into the job.

A tub-thumping speech later, including a declaration climate change was “this generation’s nuclear-free moment”, she left the stage to boisterous cheers and a revitalised campaign.

On Saturday after three years in government, the enthusiasm returned.

Fervent Labour supporters provided the backdrop for Ms Ardern, the most popular PM in a generation, to reflect on her journey.

“If you had told me then that our launch in 2020 would be in the midst of a global pandemic with our borders closed I would have found that very hard to fathom,” she said.

“If you’d told me that Clarke and I would have a toddler, I wouldn’t have believed we would have been so lucky.

“And if you’d told me that we would have just completed a term in government with both New Zealand First and the Greens, I’d assume you’d been watching excessive amounts of Stranger Things.

“And yet here we are.”

Labour handed Mr Gayford the warm-up slot, a sign the party will run a presidential-style campaign to capitalise on Ms Ardern’s extraordinary popularity.

Ms Ardern’s standing in the eyes of Kiwis has soared this year.

Whereas Labour were headed for a contested result or even a narrow loss on January’s polls, fresh surveys show the party may be able to govern outright.

Labour’s internal numbers show the arrival of COVID-19 to New Zealand coincided with the party’s largest surge of support in decades.

Put simply, Kiwis believe Ms Ardern’s government eliminated coronavirus from the community, and trust the PM to manage the economy through the recovery.

But COVID has also transformed the election, reducing Labour’s appetite for fresh transformational pledges and instead focusing their minds on economic recovery.

“Some have asked me whether this is the COVID election,” Ms Ardern said.

“No one wants it to be.

“But it has been our new reality, and one that the team of five million have made work in the most extraordinary way.”

The centrepiece promise of Saturday’s campaign launch was another new scheme to support employment; a $NZ311 million ($A287 million) pledge to underwrite 40,000 jobs.

Not as evocative as previous pledges made in this place, but the roars of approval still rattled the storied old room.

Ms Ardern used much of her 30-minute address to go through her favourite achievements in government, while repeating the line “but still there is more to do” and asking Kiwis for the chance to continue.

“Now more than ever, is the time to keep going, to keep working,” she said in concluding her address.

“To grab hold of the opportunities that lie in front of us.

“So let’s keep going. Let’s keep rebuilding. Let’s keep moving.”

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