Yesterday opened with the bang of a campaign launch and ended with the whimpered promise of an election debate.

It was a low-key Labor launch, held yesterday morning in a bare, austere hall in Brisbane, with no grand music, posters or extra-frills. But it contained Labor’s elite, from a quiet Kevin Rudd to a strutting Bob Hawke, and a new, big message from PM Gillard: e-health, using the NBN to provide better medical access to regional areas.

Despite the attack ads being aired nightly on the telly, Gillard was going for a thoroughly positive tone. “She went through his [Tony Abbott’s] slogans, from ‘End the debt’, to ‘Stop the boats’ and matched them with positive alternatives, or debated the basis for them,” notes Malcolm Farr in the Daily Telegraph, “The core challenge from Gillard was for the Liberals to limit the negativity for the final campaign week and offer what is grandly called ‘vision’.”

Positivity was the ALP theme of the day. “The contrast is, of course, no accident: Gillard wants voters to make an affirmation on Saturday, Abbott wants a protest vote. The campaign launches have been about setting those respective scenes,” writes Katharine Murphy in The Age.

Gillard’s “Yes, We Will” seemed reminiscent of another positive campaign: “Julia Gillard has borrowed from Barack Obama to plead with wavering voters…” reports Andrew Probyn in The West Australian.

Matthew Franklin also noted the Obama connection in The Australian: “… she borrowed from the election playbooks of US President Barack Obama and his then rival Hillary Clinton, urging Australians to embrace optimism and tell themselves “Yes, we will” as they cast their ballots on Saturday.”

Channeling Obama isn’t enough. “She will need all the confidence and optimism at her disposal,” declares Annabel Crabb at The Drum. “With only days to go, the public mood still seems stuck at ‘Yes, We Might,’ and Julia Gillard needs to do a lot better than that.”

The “Yes, We Will” chant was an odd one for Gillard, “It was a peculiar juxtaposition to what otherwise was a pretty drab affair as campaign launches go,” writes Tony Wright in The Age.

Was the launch all a bit too understated and cautious? “Julia Gillard may have missed a golden opportunity,” opines Dennis Shanahan in The Oz. “Caution — the by-word of the election campaign — has kept Labor and the Prime Minister constrained, just when they had a chance to grab momentum in the final days before the poll.”

Gillard is desperate, but she’s a fighter, says Paul Kelly in The Oz: “On display under Gillard was a formidable yet diminished Labor Party. Its great battles have been won, the true believers have decamped, the reformist banners have disappeared. It is now about saving the furniture and keeping power.”

The Oz editorial was vaguely supportive of the launch and Gillard’s work-and-the-economy message, declaring “It is a limited agenda, one more appropriate to a state than a national government. But it is a start.”

Do you believe in life after Rudd? Gillard is asking voters for their faith, since she doesn’t have much else to ask them for, argues Peter Hartcher in the Sydney Morning Herald:

“When a prime minister has lost the ability to ask the people for their trust, what does she ask them for? Belief, as it turns out…

Gillard spoke of her belief in the power of hard work, her belief in the transformative power of education, her belief in the importance of caring for one another through quality healthcare, and her belief in optimism.

Indeed, she spoke of her beliefs no fewer than 21 times in the course of her 40-minute speech. And she invited us to believe, too.”

Gillard wasn’t just talking to the Labor faithful at the launch, notes Dennis Atkins in the Courier-Mail: “Gillard’s big speech might have looked low-key in the small room the ALP found in the Convention Centre, but it worked on television — the colour scheme, the shots of the Prime Minister and the power of the speech in broadcast all worked together.”

David Marr, over at The Sydney Morning Herald, was unimpressed by the shenanigans:

“Here is how they think these days in the Labor Party: cram a few hundred party faithful into a low, dark room at the Brisbane Convention Centre, hammer them with everything they’d heard before, and somehow the punters at home will see on their television screens a party keen to govern.”

Meanwhile, don’t be a donkey, pleads former Senator Natasha Stott Despoja in the National Times, after Mark Latham encouraged voters to leave ballot papers blank during his 60 Minutes report.

“I get what he is saying: the major parties have offered little inspiration, let alone long-term vision in this campaign. The leaders have presided over media-managed and risk-averse campaigns that do little to assist in providing solutions to the seemingly intractable issues we face. Both leaders have squibbed additional debates – regardless of the topics or the format — and have had few genuine encounters with voters.

No wonder voters are disillusioned and cynical about politics and politicians — but a blank ballot is not the answer.”

But the tit-for-tat over the economy debate is nearly over.

Tony Abbott has finally agreed to debate Gillard on the economy tonight, but only on the condition that she then heads up for a town-hall style meeting in Queensland.

The debate would be 30 minutes long, to be aired on the ABC and moderated by Chris Uhlmann. Tony’s town-hall would be a Rooty Hill RSL take two, this time a combined Sky News/Courier-Mail event.

Gillard has given the prime ministerial thumbs up but the details aren’t set in stone yet. She wants a longer debate than Abbott’s proposed 30 minutes, and suggests that it makes logistical sense to combine it with the town-hall style meeting on Wednesday.

“Abbott lent credibility to the [Labor] attacks by running scared on economic management — an issue the Coalition usually dominates, and one that decides most elections. He now has an eleventh-hour opportunity to undo some of the damage,” writes Peter van Onselen at The Oz.

An economic debate could just get Abbott over the line. But who knows? Five days, after all, is a long time in politics.