National's big push paints Rotorua blue

By Martha McKenzie-Minifie

If the number of hoardings could decide the election outcome in Rotorua, National would win hands down.

The "blue invasion" - as community worker Shell Brown described it - arrived overnight, putting newcomer candidate Todd McClay's face on street corners across the city as National goes in hard to try to overturn the hold of Labour's Steve Chadwick on the tourism stronghold.

"It's very noticeable and it's not only me that's noticed it," said Ms Brown. "Others have also commented about the number of National billboards around Rotorua."

The tactic will have to help Mr McClay - who arrived back in his birthplace a year ago after about 15 years overseas - become known to the approximately 40,000 Rotorua electorate voters who have a staunch record of favouring locals.

The Rotorua and Taupo electorates have been represented by Mrs Chadwick and fellow Labour Party minister Mark Burton for nine and 12 years respectively.

Despite this, National got more of the party vote than Labour in both electorates in the last election - 42 per cent compared with 37 per cent in Rotorua, and 44 per cent compared with 37 per cent in Taupo.

National has made no secret of plans to run big campaigns this time to try to turn the candidate result blue as well.

"I can perceive that the opposition wants it back," said Mrs Chadwick.

The midwife - known in the area as "Stevie" - held on to Rotorua by just 662 votes last election, bucking a trend of National candidates sweeping in to power in most surrounding electorates.

"It was the sea of blue that happened all around," she said. "Taupo and Rotorua remained the red, beating heart of the central North Island and I want to keep it like that again."

Boundary changes - taking in more rural areas in Rotorua and conservative Cambridge in Taupo - theoretically favour National.

But the Labour ministers' time in Parliament gives them the advantage of much higher profiles.

Rotorua Girls High School principal Annette Joyce said Mrs Chadwick was well known, and she struggled to recall Mr McClay's name. Others, including long-time National supporter and local historian Don Stafford, did the same.

Next month's poll pits the older and more politically experienced incumbents against Mr McClay and fellow National candidate Louise Upston - both in their 30s and standing for the first time.

Placed at 53 and 54 respectively on National's list, Ms Upston and Mr McClay could get into Parliament without winning the candidate race, if the party won a strong election result.

At 39 on Labour's list, Mr Burton said he was "at the margin", while Mrs Chadwick at 30 would probably be in without winning Rotorua.

Sir Howard Morrison, perhaps Rotorua's most famous resident, believes the Chadwick campaign team took it too easy in the last election, when the incumbent MP got just a 2 per cent margin over Auckland dentist Gil Stehbens in the candidate race.

"There's no way anyone from Auckland should have got within 600 votes from Stevie," said Sir Howard, who describes himself as apolitical and votes on the Maori roll.

A Rotorua Daily Post street poll of 500 people late last month found Mr McClay had a slight edge in the preferred candidate race (20.4 per cent), followed by Mrs Chadwick (17.2 per cent).

Te Ururoa Flavell, the incumbent MP and Maori Party candidate in the Maori seat of Waikari, got 8.6 per cent and the Greens' Rotorua hopeful Raewyn Saville 4.6 per cent. But more than a third of people polled were yet to decide.

When the Herald visited the Rotorua and the Taupo electorates, the cost of living and crime were top concerns for many voters.

In Tokoroa, part of the Taupo seat, fitter and welder Kevin Powell said politicians were conspicuous by their absence.

While Mr Burton was "our local man", the MP had not turned up in times of need, the 49-year-old said.

"We've had a lot of boots in thearse around here in the last fiveor six years. He hasn't been seen."

In Rotorua, Chief Lilo said families were finding it tough to make ends meet.

"People have just got all disheartened about it. The only one they are going to blame is the Government of the day."

Mr Lilo is worried about crime and used to stay awake until the early hours to watch his Mazda Marvie truck in case someone tried to steal it.

The former railways worker and long-time Labour supporter said the anti-smacking legislation had gone too far and he feared it would ultimately increase crime. "You've got enough crime happening now, on the streets. A lot of it now is because kids know what they can and can't get away with. Now they can get away with just about anything because you can't deter them."

Latest police statistics show recorded violent crimes in Rotorua rose 23 per cent in the year to the end of June and total reported crime in the city was up 3 per cent.

In Taupo, recorded violent crimes rose 10 per cent in the period. Recorded total crime fell 8 per cent in the year to the end of June in Taupo, but the brutal killing of Scottish tourist Karen Aim, 26, in January shocked the town and brought concern over lawlessness to the fore.

Shell Brown, manger of Rotorua's Challenge Violence Trust, said the high-profile It's Not Okay campaign increased awareness of family violence and she believed the spike in police crime statistics was linked to increased reporting.

She said community drives - such as a new Rotorua Safe Families campaign in which central and local Government were working together - were getting results.

Battleground seats:

Rotorua

Sitting MP: Steve Chadwick.
Party: Labour.
Age: 59.
Background: Former health worker, MP for Rotorua since 1999.

Main challenger: Todd McClay.
Party: National.
Age: 39.
Background: Ex-diplomat and son of former National minister Roger McClay.

Taupo

Sitting MP: Mark Burton.
Party: Labour.
Age: 52.
Background: Entered Parliament as the MP for Tongariro in 1993 and has represented the Taupo electorate since 1996.

Main challenger: Louise Upston.
Party: National.
Age: 37
Background: A project manager who has had aspirations of becoming a MP since before the age of 10.

- NZ Herald

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