EDITOR'S COMMENT: Political battle for Tauranga promises an exciting prospect

What a battle lies ahead.
I'm not talking about the second cricket test in Adelaide this weekend or the big tennis and golf events of the summer.
My focus is a little closer to home. Next year, voters in Tauranga face what should be the fiercest of political battles probably ever seen in the city.
Yes, there have been close fights before and in 1999 National candidate Katherine O'Regan ran Tauranga MP Winston Peters just about as close as you'd ever want to, before losing by 63 votes.
But come the middle of next year we'll discover which of the three heavyweight candidates of Peters, National's Bob Clarkson and Labour's Attorney-General Margaret Wilson comes out on top in the Tauranga electorate. I'm not aware of three such high-profile candidates ever slugging it out here before.
In the black corner (NZ First colours) we have Peters, the sitting MP, master debater and a man who never minds getting involved in a political scrap.
In the blue corner, we have Clarkson, a political novice but a man with a track record of business success and passion for the city of Tauranga.
In the red corner, we have Wilson, an academic turned Government minister who, as a political figure, is everything Peters is not.
Three distinct people and personalities, only one winner. What is fortunate for us is that we are the referees in this contest and we get to choose the victor.
The entry of Clarkson into the race has made this a three-way contest in every respect.
Historically, Tauranga has been a National Party stronghold and it took the defecting of charismatic Peters to take the seat off the party when he established New Zealand First.
A National Party man in a NZ First suit, you might say.

So it is fair to say that there is a solid core of National voters in our city.
In 1999, in the wake of the National-NZ First coalition government collapse, the support for Peters was split with the almost invisible O'Regan and she nearly toppled him.
That split of the conservative vote allowed Wilson to storm into the equation and put herself surprisingly close to victory.
In 2002, National candidate Tim MacIndoe, who blew in from over the Kaimai range, offered little competition for the formidable Peters and he waltzed home with a comfortable majority.
Clarkson is not MacIndoe and poses a serious threat to Peters' chance of securing a winning share of the conservative vote.
There can't be too many voters in this city of ours that don't know who Clarkson is.
He well and truly put himself on the map with his speedway at Te Maunga and he's a hard man to keep out of the headlines.
He is passionate about this city and while he isn't your typical politician, he is a fighter.
Waiting in the wings as the conservatives slug it out is Wilson.
If she is prepared to go hard out for the electorate vote in Tauranga and not settle for the party vote, her chances may well rest with the performance of the Labour Party nationally.
Should they get strong support as in 1999, she might spring a surprise. If there is a conservative swing, she will have plenty to overcome.
And let's never discount Peters. Many have written him off before and he's proven them wrong.
Personally, I can't wait for the combatants to strip down to their fighting silks and get on with it.
I think it is going to be an entertaining (and at times bloody) fight with a grand prize for the winner and little left for the losers.
Of course in Peters case, defeat could well bring the end of the NZ First party which only survived in 2002 thanks to his Tauranga victory.
May the best person win.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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