It was a launch that set Liberal hearts soaring. There were moments of depoliticised family drama, numeracy-challenged Planning Minister Matthew Guy declared Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews didn’t like these four words: “the desal plant” (yep, that was three), and more than anything it set aside an endless tide of bad polling news and offered Victorians a positive Liberal vision of the future.

Liberal sources said yesterday’s regional campaign launch, held in Ballarat, was so positive it could turn their campaign around.

And it gave the Liberals a public transport story to tell voters who are against the party’s flagship $6.8 billion East West Link tunnel: they announced they would spend more than $3.9 billion over ten years on 186 trains and trams for Victoria.

Premier Denis Napthine’s son Tom was the hero of the day; his introduction for the Premier was naive, nervous and tender — just the thing for a room of politicians facing electoral wipeout.

Amid all this good cheer, what’s a journalist to do when staring at the blinking cursor? Then another actor appeared.

Ted Baillieu, the former premier ousted by his party after a run-in with balance-of-power MP Geoff Shaw, was put on the big screens. While Guy, tipped as a future party leader, raised an applause for “two giants of our party”, the retiring Baillieu begrudgingly slow-clapped for a few seconds. His heart just wasn’t in it, even though he and Jeff Kennett were the reason for the applause.

But yesterday wasn’t all about the Liberals. The Palmer United Party’s showcase of “ordinary Victorian” candidates for Victoria’s upper house held at the Sofitel Hotel in Melbourne also aimed for a mood of optimism, but lacked the pizzazz.

The sportsmen are gone, the celebs and the firebrands have given way to execs, middle managers, small business people and community access TV hosts. Many were unsuccessful PUP candidates in the 2013 federal election, but there are only two who require our attention at the moment: Trevor Dance in the Western Metropolitan upper house district and Sarah Taylor for the Eastern Victoria seat, in the Latrobe Valley. Throughout PUP founder Clive Palmer’s appearances in Melbourne he has specifically targeted these areas with his rhetoric. If there is a hope for PUP it is with these two people.

Taylor flits around between business postings, according to her LinkedIn profile, but has worked on a project called Community Carbon for the longest. She is also one of two principals in a project called Cobalt Blu.

According to its website, Cobalt Blu has “supported the bids for the East-West Link roadway,” but Taylor said she had no connection to that project.  “I didn’t have any involvement at all,” she said, pointing out the walls of non-disclosure agreements that separated her from it. She says she has been thinking of running for politics for some time and wanted to stay separated from it to avoid a perceived conflict of interest.

At the launch she said: “Normal people like me have to stand so that we can all have a voice, so that we can all share ideas and bring new ideas to the table.”

She briefly mentioned “re-imagining manufacturing and marine environments”, which she says could mean more thought towards tourism and aquaculture off the Victorian coast. One of her business projects is to sell sailing and adventure equipment online.

Palmer was asked to enlighten us but wouldn’t, saying: “It’s an idea that she’s put forward which is being looked at very hard by the people in Victoria, our management committee … and our policy committee.” He said it was to go to a vote whether Taylor’s idea would become PUP policy.

In the west, Dance is a supermarket chain owner and spoke on community issues. “Families are struggling to pay record high council rates, while council CEOs are earning $300,000 a year,” he said.

Dance spoke on the topics of planning and the environment at a 2012 Wheeler Centre function. As Palmer’s aim is to take the balance of power in Victoria, his talk against public asset sales is important.

Both the Liberals and Labor have flagged selling the Port of Melbourne for an estimated multibillion-dollar windfall after the election. Labor wants to use the money to pay for the big infrastructure project of removing 50 level crossings. The Liberals want to use the money for other projects like building a new port in Melbourne’s east.

But Palmer’s mob wants to keep the port in public hands. “We’re against the sale of the Port of Melbourne,” Palmer said.

“I’m a businessman, I buy things to make money. If I can buy them cheap and double the revenue I’ll do it. But if you look at the public perspective, you don’t want those assets [sold],” he said.

*Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Sarah Taylor worked for ANZ bank. We regret the error.