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The Conservatives leader last night won an eleventh-hour High Court scrap over his exclusion from TV3's politics show The Nation's minor leaders debate.
The show's producers were forced to include him this morning, with presenter Lisa Owen describing him as "our uninvited guest".
Mr Craig joined the Green Party's Metiria Turei, New Zealand First's Winston Peters, United Future's Peter Dunne, the Maori Party's Te Ururoa Flavell, Act's Jamie Whyte, and Mana Party's Hone Harawira on screen.
And he appeared to have found his voice again, after he reportedly lost it following yesterday's court action, with a Conservatives spokeswoman telling Newstalk ZB he was unable to comment last night because he had lost his voice.
However, he "looked like he was missing a spark plug", 3News political reporter Brook Sabin said in the analysis afterwards.
"After yesterday with the court action, he really needed to have a strong performance today to justify his presence, I don't think he did."
Mr Craig had "got some biff in against Peters", but "failed to differentiate himself" from him, Otago University political scientist Bryce Edwards said.
"He could give no reasons why someone from that voter group might vote Conservatives rather than New Zealand First."
The debate started off smoothly, which each leader given a turn to express their views on each subject, but gradually turned more heated with leaders talking over each other.
Mr Craig struggled to get his voice heard over the other leaders, with Mr Sabin saying afterwards that "his political dream is falling to bits".
During the debate the Conservatives leader laughed off the notion he was Mr Peter's "doppelganger" and that people wouldn't vote for his party.
"I think New Zealanders are ready for a change, I also think we've been very clear, not talking in double-speak, we would support the highest polling party if they have a mandate to lead, and I think we'd find more common ground than perhaps my opponent over the room would [Peters]," he replied.
"We are gaining support. I had double the turn-out to my meeting in Tauranga [than Mr Peters], which I understand is his home hunting ground."
The leaders discussed hot election issues, including foreign ownership, immigration, housing, crime, and unemployment, with Ms Turei, Mr Harawira and Mr Peters appearing to chime on many topics.
While Mr Peters remained firm on not commenting on which parties he would partner with until after the votes were in, he said "there's a place for sound environmentalism because it's good economics" when asked if he would work with the Greens.
Ms Turei said her party had "worked really well" with Mr Peters on issues in the past. She also denied she was worried about Labour's performance in the polls.
"Their fortunes are their own business, our fortunes are mine," she said.
Mr Hawawira said he was "guaranteed to get a call on the night of September 20" if the polls keep tracking the way they are for the Internet-Mana Party.
At the start of the show Ms Owen told viewers they were tuning into "the debate that almost wasn't", following Mr Craig's legal action prohibiting TV3 from airing the show without him.
"So after a frankly heroic effort by our crew last night, he's with us," she said.
Mr Craig filed urgent legal proceedings with the High Court in Auckland yesterday, with Justice Murray Gilbert siding with the Conservative Party leader saying any inconvenience to MediaWorks was outweighed by the public interest in having Mr Craig at the debate.
- By Patrice Dougan of APNZ