The normally busy Gungahlin cafe where I arrange to meet Alistair Coe and his wife Yasmin is closed.
It is a public holiday, but the Liberal leader suggests there are deeper problems on Hibberson Street.
These businesses are hurting, Coe says, the victims of light rail construction work, bushfire smoke and now the COVID-19 crisis.
He understands their plight. He spent much of the early weeks and months of the pandemic speaking with them as they fought for survival.
It is from those conversations that he formed the view that some of the restrictions imposed on businesses have been too rigid and draconian, even "absurd".
Chief Minister Andrew Barr has accused his adversary of undermining public health officials, but Coe remains unapologetic.
In his mind, he's standing up for Canberrans doing it tough.
He's put that belief at the centre of his election pitch, which he set out in full as he launched the Canberra Liberals' campaign as the sun set over the National Arboretum the previous evening.
Dressed casually in a blue shirt and chinos, an energised Coe roused the party faithful with a 20-minute address delivered without notes or prompts. He stepped off the podium red in the face, the back of his shirt darkened by sweat.
The 36-year-old gave it everything he had. He knows no other way.
It was the long-form version of the stump speech he's repeated each day on the campaign trail.
In short, the Liberals want to lower taxes while improving services, an ambitious - Labor say undeliverable - promise to be paid for through population growth. After 19 years in power Andrew Barr's Labor is stale, out of ideas and out of touch with the community, the Liberals say.
Coe has recited the same line at the start of each press conference: '"The Canberra Liberals want to make the ACT the best place to live, work and raise a family".
He has avoided answering questions directly throughout the campaign, stubbornly, and at times nonsensically, retreating to those rehearsed lines.
The deliberate tactic means the manufactured message is all voters see and hear. That and the stunts; the baking, boxing and the literal freezing of rates bills.
It means the real Alistair Coe remains unknown to the broader electorate, the public perception of him defined by stereotypes created and pushed by others. He's been cast as too conservative for Canberra, a Young Liberal graduate with no real-world experience. An 'L-plater'.
It raises the question: Who really is Alistair Coe, the man who could be anointed the most powerful man in ACT politics by dinnertime on Saturday?
What does he actually believe in?
"Empathetic". "Authentic". "Introverted". "Strong in his faith". "Absolutely ruthless". "A true gentleman". "Dedicated father".
The descriptions of Alistair Coe, offered by those interviewed by The Canberra Times for this profile, depict a person and politician more complex than the stiff and serious one portrayed by his opponents and projected to the public.
Coe's supporters and detractors agree the Liberal leader is defined by a steely determination and frenetic work ethic.
Yasmin, a former national-level champion rower, speaks of her husband's "relentless pursuit of doing things well", which is as evident in his dedication to their two young children, Angus (6) and Annabelle (4), as it is in his work.
Coe comes across as awkward and robotic on the television news, but those who've met the Liberal leader can attest to his friendly persona. He's the kind of person who'll insist on shouting you a coffee or meal, says Liberal senator Zed Seselja.
"He's interested in asking you about you," says Liberal MLA Giulia Jones. "He is genuinely empathetic."
Born at old Royal Canberra Hospital in 1984, Coe grew up in Wanniassa and Nicholls as the youngest of three boys.
In his maiden speech to the Legislative Assembly in 2008, he described a simple and stable upbringing centred around family, sport, church and community.
"I grew up in an environment where mainstream values were respected and not scoffed at or denigrated," he said.
Coe says his parents were always Liberal voters, but were never involved in politics. It wasn't, he says, a very Coe thing to do.
But when as a sports-loving teenager he found himself often defending Liberal values to his friends, he felt compelled to "put his money where his mouth is".
He joined the ACT Young Liberals as a 16-year-old in 2000, when John Howard was Prime Minister and Kate Carnell the territory's Chief Minister.
True to character, the then-Radford College student threw all of himself into politics.
He became president of the ACT branch of the party's youth wing in 2005 and a year later was voted vice-president of its national body; positions won only by those willing to scratch, fight and plot. He honed his political skills as a member of the ANU Liberal Club, which he joined while studying a commerce degree.
An avowed right winger, Coe played politics hard and not always fair. As a 20-year-old, he was hauled before the Liberals' management committee to explain a raft of alleged misdemeanors, including that he threatened to incite divisions within the party if it didn't cede to wishes about the running of a Young Liberals' annual general meeting.
He wrote lengthy complaints about fellow Liberal student politicians. In emails seen by the The Canberra Times a 22-year-old Coe accused some Liberals in the Legislative Assembly of not being interested in winning government.
"He has always been extremely strategic, even as a teenager," says one former senior party figure. "He always managed to be on the right side of the party."
Though deeply involved in the party, Coe didn't put his hand up to run for a seat until Bill Stefaniak's surprise resignation triggered a vacancy in Ginninderra eight weeks out from the 2008 election.
With no time to run a proper preselection, it was left to the party's management committee to pick a new candidate.
In an email to supporters two days before the vote, Coe promised a well-funded and well-staffed "blitz" campaign.
He wasn't lying. After narrowly securing preselection, he launched a near round-the-clock campaign, ran out of a small office in Holt. With the help of a dozen loyal volunteers, he letterboxed the sprawling Belconnen-based electorate day and night for six weeks, distributing more than 140,000 pieces of campaign material.
"As a rule of thumb, if you're going to do something you do it properly," Coe says, reflecting on that campaign and an attitude which has framed his approach to life.
"You run to win. It comes back to that competitive streak, being the third child. I ran a fair bit at school, and I was never particularly talented. But I have a fair bit of determination and I can push through pain barriers."
It worked. Coe easily beat incumbent Vicki Dunne to finish first on the Liberals' ticket, winning enough votes to secure a seat.
"We were all just amazed," says Jones. "I think that really set him up as someone with huge capacity."
In the maiden speech delivered just weeks later, Coe introduced himself to the Canberra community as a proud Liberal, a true believer in the principles of freedom, limited government and the integrity of the individual.
He spoke of the importance of his faith, decrying those who "sneered" at people with Christian convictions.
He attacked the Labor government's neglect of core service and pursuit of social campaigns. The young Liberal firebrand singled out Chief Minister Jon Stanhope for particularly pointed criticism.
Twelve years on, Coe speaks glowingly of Stanhope, now a fully-fledged critic of the Barr government, as an almost model Chief Minister.
"He wasn't anywhere near as stage-managed or as rehearsed and there is just a sincerity and authenticity to him, regardless of whether you agree with him or not," Coe says.
Inside the Assembly, Coe grew into one of the Liberals' best and most reliable performers.
Like a dog with a bone, he relentlessly pursued the Barr government over its shady land deals in the city, Dickson and west of Molonglo, raising questions of integrity which still linger.
He's never lost the ruthless streak developed in student politics either. A former colleague points to Coe's decision to make public a homophobic note handed to him by Labor MLA John Hargreaves, a move which prompted the veteran politician's resignation, as evidence of his rat cunning.
He won the deputy leadership in 2013, and secured the numbers to take over from Jeremy Hanson as party leader after the 2016 election defeat.
With Seselja in the senate and Coe leader in the Assembly, the Canberra Liberals have conservatives as the figureheads of the party. Insiders say the pair have used their sway and numbers to ensure loyalists are elected to key positions in the branch, helping to strengthen the conservatives' grip on power.
Former Canberra Liberals president Gary Kent, who quit the party in 2013 amid a bitter dispute over Seselja's senate preselection, said the branch had been "hollowed out" by the conservative forces who controlled it.
I've got as many shortcomings as the next person. What my faith does is provide a framework for me to hold myself to account.- Alistair Coe
"The party no longer represents my values, and the values of the many people who have left in recent years," he says.
Seselja argues it is "simply not true" that the Canberra Liberals have been pulled to the hard right, saying the policies put forward by Coe's party room are "very mainstream, centre-right policies".
Despite what Seselja says, the perception exists.
And it is impossible to divorce that sentiment from what transpired in the second half of 2017.
In a fact widely publicised at the time and since, Alistair Coe was the only Australian government or opposition leader to vote "No" in the 2017 same-sex marriage survey.
His position, based on his strong religious beliefs, put him at odds with the majority of Canberrans, who returned the highest "Yes" vote (74 per cent) in the country.
Coe doesn't regret the position he took. He accepts the outcome, and respects those who voted the other way.
"I hope that before, during and after, I have conducted myself respectfully for people that have a different view," he says.
The "No" vote has been harnessed as a political weapon by Coe's opponents, held up as emblematic of a set of entrenched right-wing views which make him unelectable in the most progressive jurisdiction in Australia.
Labor, led by Australia's first openly-gay leader, has put the image of Coe the ultra conservative at the centre of its re-election campaign. It ran an television advertisement early in the campaign which pushed the line "what matters to us, doesn't matter to the Canberra Liberals".
As we chat over coffee inside Hibberson Street's Coffee Guru cafe, Yasmin launches an impassioned defence of her husband, and stinging attack on his critics - particularly Andrew Barr.
"Alistair has strong convictions and he's not afraid to share those convictions. He doesn't flip flop and give a different answer to please different audiences," she says.
"But he genuinely understands and accepts people have a different viewpoint. I think that is a contrast because I don't think we've seen that from the Labor government.
"I think they've got to a point where I would call it blatantly bullying."
Ironically, the basis for the attacks on Coe - his faith - is also the shield he uses to defend them.
"I have a belief framework and it is not going to be brought down by a Labor party focus group," he says.
It is well known that Coe is deeply religious, but his faith is not something he speaks often about in public.
He tells me that his Christian faith is his bedrock. A member of the Anglican Church, he says his faith provides him with an appreciation that he's part of something bigger than himself, that he's accountable to someone.
"I've got as many shortcomings as the next person. What my faith does is provide a framework for me to hold myself to account.
"Generally speaking, I know when I have done something wrong, or gone too far."
Rabbi Shmueli Feldman has become close friends with Coe since moving to Canberra in 2013. Coe regularly attends the Jewish community's events. In fact, he rarely misses any event hosted by Canberra's many faith and multicultural communities.
The rabbi offers a perspective of the Liberal leader which runs contrary to the narrative of him as closed-minded and intolerant.
Rabbi Feldman says individuals with as strong religious convictions as Coe tend not to tolerate people of other faiths. But Coe is different, Rabbi Feldman says. Without selling out his own beliefs, Rabbi Feldman says Coe is able to meaningfully and authentically engage with people who follow other religions, who hold world views different to his own.
"There is a lot of talk in Canberra about inclusivity and diversity. Sometimes I question just how inclusive we are," he says.
"I look at Alistair, despite what people say about him, and see first-hand how inclusive he really is.
"I am better off having him as a friend. I think as Canberrans we are all better off for having someone who is as passionate about his beliefs and is passionate about his community as Alistair is."
On November 24 last year, the headline 'Libs cast doubt of Coe' was splashed across the front page of The Sunday Canberra Times.
A small group of Liberal MLAs had been canvassing the possibility of overthrowing Coe and installing moderate Elizabeth Lee as party leader.
"I don't think we can win the [election] with Alistair," one said.
The attempted coup was torpedoed the next morning. The "Rebel Alliance", as one plotter jokingly described it, never had the numbers to topple their leader.
It did prove a cathartic experience for the Liberals. A tension had been building in the Liberal party room in the months prior, fuelled by a sense of dread at the prospect of an election defeat in 12 month's time - and another four years in opposition.
Nobody hates opposition more than Coe, who speaks bitterly about the 2012 and 2016 election losses.
The reaffirmation of Coe's leadership was never going to fix the problem, but it did provide some stability and certainty.
His colleagues remain wary of their leader's limitations, but they're alive to his strengths - and his capacity to surprise.
If he does pull off a victory on Saturday night, and it would be an upset victory, some fear Coe would be out of his depth in the Chief Minister's chair.
"The skills you need to run a party are not the skills you need to run a government," says one party figure.
But Coe's close confidants believe that he has what it takes to lead the Liberals out of the political wilderness, and the ACT in a new direction.
They, like him, believe in miracles. As for what type of Chief Minister would be, Yasmin offers one predication.
"He'd be different leader than Andrew Barr," she says.
"He'd be a leader for everyone."
Dan covers federal politics from Parliament House, with a special focus on climate policy and the NDIS. He has previously reported on ACT politics and urban affairs since joining the Canberra Times in 2018.
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