Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

NZ First can take Whangarei and Whanganui seats from National - Winston Peters

NZ First leader Winston Peters.
NZ First leader Winston Peters.

NZ First leader Winston Peters says his party is eyeing up Whangarei and Whanganui in next year's election - and is aiming to have all candidates confirmed by year end.

Speaking at the start of the party's annual conference in Dunedin, Peters told media Whangarei was ripe for the taking because of National MP Shane Reti's low profile.

"Shane can walk down the main street of Whangarei and eight out of 10 people don't recognise him. Now that's a fact."

Peters, who captured Northland from National in a byelection in 2015 and has since put more campaigning focus on the regions, also named Whanganui as a possible target.

He said National MP Chester Borrows, who has held the seat since 2005, was a good MP but had been marginalised by his own party.

"Because common sense people with a bit of experience...are not popular in the new age, neoliberal National Party."

There has been growing speculation that former Labour MP Shane Jones will leave the diplomatic corps and stand for NZ First in Whangarei.

A policy remit from NZ First's Tauranga branch to have all candidates declared by the end of the year "to the maximum extent practicable" will be debated at the conference.

"It may not be possible, but that's our target," Peters said. "I can tell you we've had more nominations than we have ever had in the party's history, this far out [from the election]. There will be over 80 nominations already."

Recent polls indicate Peters could be king-maker next year, and the theme of this weekend's conference is "it's time".

NZ First would have "far more seats in 2017 than you could possibly even imagine," Peters said. "It's not who we are going to be talking to, it's who will talk to us in 2017. Stand back and watch."

Asked if NZ First could be one of the two top parties, said "you are getting yourself into the right zone".

The goal was to have a "serious change" in the economic and social direction of New Zealand, Peters said.

"Otherwise I'm not personally interested in going on, and nor would my party be."

- NZ Herald

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