By HELEN TUNNAH
Rodney Hide will push hard to win the Auckland seat of Epsom at next year's election in a shift in tactics from those pursued under former leader Richard Prebble.
"I've been after Epsom since 1999. I guess the change is, I'm leader," Mr Hide said yesterday.
He said Epsom was winnable for Act because sitting MP Richard Worth was "invisible" both nationally and in the seat.
Mr Worth said Mr Hide had tried to win the seat twice and failed.
Mr Hide has looked longingly at Epsom for some years, campaigning hard in 1999 and coming within 2000 votes of seizing the seat.
But in 2002, Mr Worth won comfortably as Mr Hide was forced to follow Act's national strategy for all its MPs to target the party vote.
That delivered Act 7 per cent of the vote, and nine MPs, but this year Act has been struggling to rise above 2 per cent in the polls.
Without a seat, a party must win 5 per cent of the vote to have MPs elected to Parliament.
Mr Hide confirmed yesterday that he would be campaigning to win the seat, and expected to get the approval of Act's board to do so.
He also said Act's caucus supported his stand. "It hasn't been a big issue, because the focus is the party vote overall, but I've always maintained we should pick up Epsom on the way."
Mr Hide did not expect his campaigning nationwide to chase party votes would detract from his profile in Epsom.
"I think the Epsom voters will allow me to have leave to get around the country.
"My analysis is you would probably lose around two or three thousand party votes by contesting [the electorate vote] in that seat."
Act has not won an electorate seat since Mr Prebble picked up Wellington Central in 1996, when National endorsed him.
Although there has been speculation about National providing a similar endorsement for Act next year, at this stage that remains remote in both Epsom and Tamaki.
Epsom provides National with one of its biggest fundraising electorates, and there are concerns in Auckland about the long-term effects of weakening the party's grip on any seat.