NZ First Leader and Northland MP Winston Peters is targeting Whangarei for his party next election, but incumbent Shane Reti isn't too worried.
Speaking at the start of the party's annual conference in Dunedin at the weekend Mr Peters said Whangarei was ripe for the taking because of National MP Dr 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," Mr Peters said.
Mr Peters, who captured Northland from National in a by-election in 2015 and has since put more campaigning focus on the regions, also named Whanganui as a possible target.
The rumour mill has it that former Labour List MP Shane Jones will stand for NZ First in Whangarei, but that has been shot down by Mr Peters who said he had not spoken to Mr Jones about standing.
However, his comments about Dr Reti have sparked a response, with the first-time MP for Whangarei saying Mr Peter's comments can't be true.
"The numbers don't lie," Dr Reti said.
"If you look at the last election we got every second vote in the party vote (18,503) and I got every second vote in the candidate vote (20,111). I was really honoured that it was the second-highest vote ever for the Whangarei electorate. NZ First can continue to do and say what it wants, but I'll continue to work hard for the people of Whangarei ... and create more jobs."
He said the National Party was already preparing for the next election and if NZ First stood a candidate against him he would give that person the same respect he would any candidate wanting his seat.
NZ First List MP Pita Paraone stood in Whangarei last election and gained 2944 votes while NZ First got 4936 party votes. Mr Peters said his party's candidates for electorates could be known by the end of this year.
"It may not be possible, but that's our target," Mr 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 Mr Peters could be king-maker next year, and the theme of last weekend's conference is "It's Time".
NZ First would have "far more seats in 2017 than you could possibly even imagine," Mr 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, he said: "You are getting yourself into the right zone."
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