Taking The Pulse: Cardiff
I've escaped. I've left the sound and fury of the Westminster village - though only for a week - to take the pulse of the electorate.
First stop: Cardiff, home of one of five Welsh constituencies [see note below] which the Tories need to win from Labour to have a chance of forming a workable majority in the House of Commons.
Since New Labour came to power, the electorate of Cardiff North - the residential and in places leafy parts of the Welsh capital - have mirrored the behaviour of the country as a whole.
Labour's support here slumped from over 50% of the vote in 1997 to 39% at the last election when, it's worth remembering, Labour won a third term with the lowest-ever vote share obtained by a governing party.
However, the Tories failed to gain from this decline, picking up just 227 votes in those eight years. Thanks to a lower turnout, their vote share crept up from 33.7% to 36.5%.
The reason? Voters who deserted Labour switched, in the main, to the Lib Dems - even though they are outsiders in this seat with just under 19% of the vote.
The Tories are hopeful of winning the seat, having topped the Euro poll not just here but in Wales as a whole. They have 12 councillors in this constituency as against Labour's three and the Lib Dems' six - even though in Cardiff as a whole, the Lib Dems control the city council.
Labour hopes depend on stressing the independence and hard work of the local MP - Julie (wife of Rhodri) Morgan - and persuading those Lib Dems not to switch to the Tories.
On each of my stops on this entirely unscientific test of public opinion, I'm posing a different question to get voters talking. Today it's the one Gordon Brown knows is the hardest his party faces after 13 years in power: "Do you want five more years of Labour?"
It's clear how much trouble Labour will be in if that is what the election is seen to be about. While we were filming in a Cardiff gym, young, old and very sweaty circuit trainers lined up to answer in the negative and to express their anger about expenses, the economy, Afghanistan and/or immigration - which came up again and again, despite being barely mentioned in Westminster.
However, as the prime minister always points out, elections are choices and not referenda. One or two dared to say "yes", expressing their fears about what the Tories might do to public services.
With Bosch having announced the loss of 900 jobs here and Cardiff council a further 300, minds are still on the recession. Gordon Brown would be cheered by the voices of young workers I heard in a growing Cardiff business, UPL. They expressed their fears about making a change when economic recovery was so uncertain, particularly as they had little idea what the Conservatives actually stood for - another theme that keeps recurring on this trip.
Tomorrow, it's the Tories' turn to face a tough question in another marginal they need to win: Pendle in Lancashire. You can also see my film from Cardiff on tonight's Six and Ten O'Clock News and we will add the video to this post.
Update 9 Feb: Here's the Cardiff package.
Note: The Conservatives currently have three Welsh seats: Monmouth, Preseli Pembrokeshire and Clwyd West. Election experts calculate they need five more to gain a majority: Cardiff North, Vale of Glamorgan, Aberconwy, Carmarthen West and Pembrokeshire South, Brecon and Radnorshire. They also have hopes of gaining Bridgend and Delyn and Montgomery - if a political asteroid hits the Lib Dem Lembit Opik. [Return to post]