The contest to replace Labour's David Cunliffe in the New Lynn electorate is set to be a hard-fought battle between two frontrunners out of six who have put their names up.

The two frontrunners are Greg Presland, a local and longstanding associate of Cunliffe, and Deborah Russell, an outsider and tax expert at Massey University who has support from Labour's hierarchy.

The showdown could pit Labour's ruling Council against local members when the selection meeting takes place on February 11.

Four of the seven votes at the meeting will be local votes while three are Labour Council votes - but one of the local votes will be a floor vote of the party members at the selection meeting.

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As a New Lynn resident since 1987 and strong backer of Cunliffe, Presland has the local advantage but Russell is understood to have support from Labour's Council because of her media profile as a commentator, her finance expertise and because it wants more women in electorates.

Presland was closely involved in Cunliffe's campaign for the leadership. There is also concern in Labour about Presland's outspoken - and sometimes critical - contributions to The Standard blog under the pseudonym Mickey Savage.

Cunliffe will leave Parliament by the election to take up a consultancy role and is refusing to publicly back any of the six candidates. "It's a compliment to Labour, the calibre of the candidates and I am not expressing a view. It is a matter for the selection panel."

He has also known Russell for years and is close to lawyer Susan Zhu who has put her name up along with Christina Faumuina, Owen Gill and Sunny Kaushal. Both Kaushal and Zhu are expected to attract a portion of the floor vote on the night - which would be the casting vote if the three local representatives and three Council members vote in blocs.

That could chip away at Presland's support.

Deborah Russell during the 2014 campaign. Photo / Lewis Gardner
Deborah Russell during the 2014 campaign. Photo / Lewis Gardner

Presland, a lawyer, is also chair of the Waitakere Ranges Local Board. He had never expected to run for Parliament. "But local people asked me to, and I like local government but if you're going to make big changes, Parliament is where you've got to be."

He said that included climate change, child poverty and housing. "The big stuff."

It was possible he would stay on the local board if he was elected to Parliament to avoid a byelection, but would step down as chair​.

He was likely to give up blogging for The Standard however. "I'm pretty sure I won't be allowed to [continue]."

He did not believe his close association with Cunliffe, who led the party to a record low vote in 2014, would count against him. "I've held a variety of positions in the party under my own steam." He was "very unlikely" to try to stand on the list if he was not selected as an electorate candidate.

Russell conceded there were difficulties in trying to get the selection as an outsider, but she was contacting party members in New Lynn to try to secure support and had promised to move into the electorate if
selected.

"I'm making sure I'm familiar with the issues here, but I'm also promoting myself as someone who can operate successfully on a national stage as well."

She said Labour did need more women candidates and that was something the locals would weigh up.

Russell stood in Rangitikei in 2014 and has impressed the leadership with her performance since then as a regular commentator in the media.

Cunliffe held New Lynn with a majority of 4557 votes in 2014. It has traditionally been a safe Labour seat but boundary changes have eroded that a bit.