It was as if Rod Stewart had come to the Queensland town of Caboolture, according to One Nation’s candidate for the seat of Longman, Matthew Stephen, as he described this week the star appeal of his party leader, Pauline Hanson.
The events he was describing occurred several weeks ago, of course, because, as we now know, Senator Hanson has been on a luxury cruise around the British Isles and the voters of Longman have had to make do with cardboard cutouts of her this week.
But even before the cruise, the chances to see the aura in action were a bit limited for the rest of us.
While Mr Stephen was favourably comparing Senator Hanson’s rock star reception from voters with the lack of enthusiasm for the leaders of the major parties, or even for their enthusiasm for campaigning in the seat, we had to take his word for it.
When the ABC’s 7.30 asked whether we could tag along to any events the party leader was attending in Longman last week, we were told that One Nation didn’t like to let the media know where she would be turning up, as it put voters off.
They might think she was great, we were told, but voters didn’t want to actually be seen with her.
This strange disconnect between voters and politicians being seen with each other feels to have been a particular distinguishing feature of the excruciatingly long official and unofficial byelection campaigns in the seats of Longman, Braddon in Tasmania, Mayo in South Australia, and Perth and Fremantle in Western Australia.
And, after indicating he would be in Longman last week, he came to Brisbane, half an hour down the road, but didn’t go to the electorate where a byelection was being fought.
It’s not just the physical disconnects that have been a bit odd in these byelections. The Liberals didn’t even bother turning up for the two campaigns in Western Australia.
The difference between the way the byelections are perceived nationally – as contests between Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten; as referendums on the Coalition’s company tax cuts – and the way they are seen on the ground could not be more different.
The nature of these byelections – four of which are to elect or re-elect Labor politicians and one to re-elect a crossbencher – mean they are not the usual referendums on the incumbent government.
Vox pop around Longman and Braddon and it is not just indifference that you pick up but disillusion with politics generally.
It feels like election campaign promises – which have collectively added up to several hundred million dollars of roads, hospitals and the like – have barely featured in the discussion.
Voters aren’t even angry, just contemptuous of politics in general, whoever it is they are talking about.
That only seems to make talks with political strategists seem even more disconnected.
Their assessments of what is going on are coloured by assessments of how good the campaigning has been in various seats. They are influenced by how organised the local campaigners are; of what resources they think the other side has available.
In Braddon, for example, the Liberals were feeling very confident last week because they thought the campaign had been well structured (subtext: compared with Longman).
By comparison, they said, Labor did not have the levels of support from GetUp! and the unions that it had enjoyed at the 2016 federal election.
A seasoned Greens campaigner looked dispassionately at the major parties and noted that Labor was running a traditional “on the ground” campaign – “always a disaster in a Tasmanian winter” – while the Liberals were confining themselves to a series of announcements.
There was lots of talk about robocalls earlier in the campaign in Longman. But these just seemed to put people off.
Very high levels of pre-polling in all electorates suggests voters just wanted to vote and be done with it.
On the ground in Longman, it was hard finding anyone volunteering that they had voted for a major party. A lot of people would tell you that they didn’t think much of either side “but at least Pauline is honest”, which gave a vague sense of where their ballot may have been cast.
With polling showing One Nation recording a primary vote of around 15 per cent, and very high levels of pre-polling having taken place before it emerged that Senator Hanson had decamped to the northern hemisphere, any impact from voter resentment about the cruise might be limited.
You wonder, too, how the transgressions that seem to have emerged about almost all the candidates in the two crucial byelections of Braddon and Longman will affect any individual candidate.
Justine Keay in Braddon seems to be more marked down than her colleague Susan Lamb in Longman over the whole citizenship mess.
Brett Whiteley, who is contesting Braddon, seems to generate quite a lot of animus on the streets, going back to his support for the 2014 budget cuts, and to his long association with the Liberals in state politics.
In such an environment, it is not clear that attempts by Liberal Party Tasmanian overlord Eric Abetz to taint the one “authentic” personality in the campaign – fisherman Craig Garland – by raising an assault conviction from the 1990s actually worked.
Everyone knows everyone in Braddon. Garland and Whiteley went to school together. Garland drives a car that used to belong to Whiteley.
Garland’s preferences could well rescue Keay in Braddon, while One Nation’s could deliver Longman to the Liberals.
All the pondering about what went right and wrong on the ground will end on Saturday and the attention will turn again to what the results mean for the numbers in the House of Representatives, and what they mean for Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten.
But before the results are even known, it says much about the turning of the political tide in recent months that the framing of the results are already seen as being about Bill Shorten’s future being under possible threat this weekend, rather than Malcolm Turnbull’s.
The mob want Malcolm and the government to be better than they are, a pragmatist told me a few weeks ago. But they just don’t like Bill.
And for all the deep analysis of what might lie below the July 28 polls, the reality is the assessment of disaffected and turned-off voters is not much more complicated than this.