Labour MP Shane Jones has indicated he is weighing up his future in politics if he does not get strong endorsement from Maori voters in November's general election.
Mr Jones said on Te Kaea on Maori Television he wanted to win the Tamaki Makaurau seat - currently held by Maori Party leader Pita Sharples - and if he did not he would "reconsider my options".
Asked to clarify his comments by the Herald yesterday, he said winning the seat would give him a strong platform for "future developments" in his political career.
"If that doesn't come to pass, a whole bunch of other factors have to be weighed up. If I don't win the seat, then I'll assess what happens - whether or not I stay on and look to play a more meaningful role in politics, or whatever."
Mr Jones has not been restored to the front bench since he was disciplined for his credit card use. He is almost certain to return as a list MP regardless of whether he wins the seat.
His comments suggest he believes winning the seat back for Labour will be a crucial factor in his party rewarding him with senior roles, including the possibility of becoming leader. It would bolster the argument that his rehabilitation was complete in the eyes of the voters.
Asked if his comment meant he was considering leaving politics he said no.
"I have no intention of bailing out of politics in the foreseeable future.
"The bottom line is if I want to stay on in politics and go back to where I was in 2003, then winning the seat is a big part of that. If I don't, I'll look at the lay of the land after that."
Mr Jones was yesterday in South Auckland with Labour leader Phil Goff, who is spending this week on visits around Auckland.
Although Mr Goff is unlikely to be challenged before the election, there was speculation on right-wing blogs Mr Jones could replace Annette King as Labour's deputy leader. Mr Jones rejected it.
"I have no agenda whatsoever to replace Annette King and it's very destabilising. Phil is our leader and we are completely behind our leadership team."
The party has been hit by ongoing speculation about the leadership. They included reports Mr Goff asked his front bench if he should stand down. Mr Goff has denied it and several front bench MPs have backed him or refused to comment.
It is also understood that at a caucus meeting a fortnight ago MPs Mr Jones and Lianne Dalziel criticised Mr Goff's handling of the SIS issue.
Goff had maintained he was not briefed by SIS head Warren Tucker about an investigation into whether Israeli backpackers caught in the earthquake were linked to Mossad.
Speculation is also building that other contenders, including David Cunliffe and David Parker, are building support teams to be ready to replace Mr Goff after the election.
One source said Lianne Dalziel, Charles Chauvel and Moana Mackey were linked to Camp Cunliffe.