Dark horse John Palino has won over elderly voters and narrowed the gap on Len Brown in the race for Auckland's mayoralty.
A Herald on Sunday-Key Research poll this week shows the businessman and TV personality finding favour with those aged 65 and over, concerned about high rates and personal security.
Among the small proportion of respondents who have already cast their vote, Palino has climbed to 30 per cent of the vote - still well behind incumbent Brown on 53 per cent.
Brown's biggest problem is the elderly (those aged 75-plus support Palino by a margin of two to one) and his own supporters who are not turning out to vote.
Across much of New Zealand, this is shaping up to be the poorest turnout in any election in living memory - and worst of all in Auckland.
If Brown can get his grassroots supporters to mail in the voting forms in the final days before polls close on Saturday he will romp home for another term with the support of 66 per cent of voters, the poll shows, with Palino fading to 21 per cent.
Brown admitted he had lost ground among the elderly, and said he was not too surprised.
Many were upset when rates increased significantly in some districts because of the SuperCity changes, he told the Herald on Sunday.
"In general, I am seen as the guy who caused that, so I have had a bit of blowback from the elderly."
Brown insisted he welcomed Palino's challenge and hoped it would encourage more people to get out and vote.
"At this stage, disappointingly, numbers are down quite a lot on the last time, which was an intensely fought contest," Brown said. "The only poll I am focusing on is the election itself."
He doubted the significant rates cuts promised by Palino would be feasible. "I have nine years' experience of setting rates increases in and around the rate of inflation," he said. "People can promise all sorts of things, but I don't just make promises ... I actually deliver, and that is the difference.
"What is important to me is what is important to most Aucklanders. And that means tackling issues like rates, transport, employment and building more houses."
But Palino, originally from New York, said the latest figures indicated Brown should now be looking over his shoulder. "Len should be running scared," Palino, 53, said. "The people of Auckland do not want another three years of being led by someone who does what he wants, whatever the consequences, and who has made no progress for the city.
"Len doesn't listen to the people and voters are beginning to see me as a breath of fresh air. I have common sense and pragmatic policies."
The poll shows 28 per cent of voters see the incoming council's most important priority to be controlling rates increases. But public transport and employment are close behind, each regarded as the top priority by nearly one in four voters.
Dr Carol Neill, from the Institute of Public Policy at AUT University, said Palino's promises to cut rates by at least 2.6 per cent had been received particularly well with the elderly and he could give Brown a surprisingly close run.
"Palino is clearly the second in the running across the sample group," Neill said. "He is attracting strong support from the over-65s, who are more likely to be concerned with rate rises."
Key Research polled 514 registered voters on who they would support, with a margin of error of +/- 4.9 per cent. Of the 158 respondents who had already cast their vote, 48 per cent declined to say who they had voted for.
Right-winger picks Brewer as offsider
Auckland mayoral challenger John Palino has named councillor Cameron Brewer - the unopposed candidate for wealthy Orakei - as his running mate.
Palino said if he toppled Len Brown as mayor, he would appoint Brewer his deputy. Fellow conservative councillors Sharon Stewart and Dick Quax would also support his mayoralty.
"It's fantastic to have Cameron on board. I couldn't ask for a better deputy," Palino said.
"Cameron has a wealth of experience in local government and has represented the people of Orakei so well over the past three years that no one chose to run against him. I have no doubt he will represent wider Auckland just as effectively.
"Cameron's expertise across council activities, performance and spending will complement my business experience. Together we'll have a firm focus on improving the level of service provided to residents, including better engagement with communities, avoiding rates increases and getting debt under control."
Brewer, in turn, said Palino had been "really active behind the scenes, working to get existing councillors in behind his vision".
He added: "I've been working with him closely over recent months and didn't hesitate to accept his offer of deputy mayor. I really look forward to working with John ... to turn the Auckland Council into an organisation that really understands and meets the needs of residents."
If Brown is returned to the mayoral chambers , Penny Hulse is expected to be his deputy again.