Former New Zealand First Cabinet minister Tau Henare may return to Parliament as a National MP, with party insiders tipping a high list placing for him at this weekend's Auckland regional conference.
The regional list ranking is done by secret ballot and the results will be forwarded to the party's national ranking committee, but will not be publicly released for a year.
National is expected to complete its national list ranking by June.
But the party has been clear it wants a more culturally diverse caucus and favours including at least one more Maori MP in its ranks.
Most insiders tip Mr Henare as the frontrunner. He is standing as National's Te Atatu candidate for a second election.
Waitakere candidate Paula Bennett, the manager of an international human capital company and a former electorate office worker for East Coast Bays MP Murray McCully, is considered another potential Maori high-flyer.
But she is a first-time candidate and delegates are considered more likely to reward Mr Henare for his loyalty. He was National's fourth-ranked Maori candidate last election and placed at 35 on the national list, well below popular Wellington Central candidate Hekia Parata, who narrowly missed making it to Parliament on the list.
Ms Parata, who criticised National leader Don Brash's first Orewa speech on race relations, is now a Ministry of Maori Development deputy secretary and has not put herself forward.
National's Manurewa candidate, Fepulea'i Ulua'ipou-O-Malo Aioni, is also touted as a strong first-time candidate but opinion appears mixed on whether she could win a high enough placing to make it into Parliament on the list.
Tamaki candidate Allan Peachey has been embraced as one of the party's new stars and is most likely to win a top list placing among all newcomers.
The sitting MP in Tamaki, Clem Simich, agreed to stand aside in return for an electable place on the list and the promise of the Speaker's job in a National-led government.
Mr Henare, who won Te Tai Tokerau (northern Maori) for NZ First in 1993 and 1996, is understood to have impressed the region's members with recent speeches.
He said yesterday that the decision on his placing "is in the hands of the delegates and I'll be happy with wherever I'm placed".
He said he supported Dr Brash's Orewa speech on race.