With nine days until election day, the two-man battle for the Waiariki electorate is heating up.

Recent polls on the electorate have painted different pictures.

While one pitched Maori Party veteran Te Ururoa Flavell well ahead of Labour's Tamati Coffey, an internal Labour Party survey of Waiariki was reported to have shown Flavell with just a 1.5 per cent lead.

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"It is close, everything tells me this will be down to the wire. I'm excited by that and I'm taking nothing for granted," Mr Coffey said.

The seat is a critical one for the Maori Party, which is polling at 1.1 per cent according to the latest Reid Research Poll released this week.

Should Mr Flavell, who is second on the party's list, fail to secure the Waiariki seat for his fifth term, his time in Parliament could be at an end.

Tamati Coffey, (left), and Te Ururoa Flavell with debate adjudicator Jasmine Pearson in Whakatane. Photo/Katee Shanks
Tamati Coffey, (left), and Te Ururoa Flavell with debate adjudicator Jasmine Pearson in Whakatane. Photo/Katee Shanks

But the party's co-leader said his focus was firmly on winning his seat, not getting back into Parliament.

"Depending on which polls you follow, potentially Waiariki and Bay of Plenty have the likelihood of seven MPs. Seven voices in parliament advocating for the region would be awesome."

With the Labour Party polling at 37.8 per cent in the same poll, Mr Coffey could still become a list MP even if he fails to take the electorate.

9 Sep, 2017 8:45am
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"No one enters a race and focuses on a plan B, and I'm not going to be the first. However, I don't see the contest as for 'the Waiariki seat', but for the ability to be a servant of the Waiariki people, one who ensures we all step forward into a better, fairer Aotearoa."

The seat hasn't seen a two-man fight since 2008, when Mr Flavell went up against Labour's Mita Ririnui, winning by 12,781 votes to 5969.

However, Mr Flavell would not draw comparisons between the campaigns.

"I haven't turned my mind to whether this is a two-man race or not for this campaign. My campaign is focused on showing the voters how we are going to solve the issues of homelessness, housing, employment and education for our people, rather than about the other candidate."

Despite holding the seat for 12 years, Mr Flavell said he wasn't taking anything for granted.

"I am confident my tireless work for our people speaks for itself. Look at what we've achieved; more than $2 billion of gains for our whanau, Budget 17 was a catalyst to influence whanau to achieve their potential."

Mr Coffey is standing for the first time in the Waiariki electorate, having lost his bid for the Rotorua seat to Todd McClay in 2014.

"Being Maori, it feels different connecting with the voters of Waiariki, it's like talking to whanau due to our shared whakapapa and experiences."

As well as covering main centres Rotorua, Tauranga, Whakatane and Taupo, the Waiariki electorate also encompasses towns like Edgecumbe, Ruatoki, Te Kaha and Minginui.

Mr Coffey said he had been saddened when speaking to Maori in these smaller areas, "hearing how they felt left behind and what effect that isolation has had on our heartland marae and communities".

"Our smaller communities are the lifeblood of our Maori iwi - our papakainga - and the yardstick of our success as politicians.

"Smaller towns shouldn't be left to live with high unemployment, unhealthy housing and insecurity, as educational opportunity, wages and skills leave town. For Maori who don't want this status quo to continue the answer is pretty obvious."

However, Mr Flavell said he had always advocated for the electorate's smaller areas.

"It's fair to say, the perception is that the bigger cities and towns get more attention but that is not isolated to Waiariki.

"When the Edgecumbe floods left whanau homeless, I helped to secure nearly $3 million ... to help build homes that will help some of those affected by the floods.

"Minginui is a classic example of a town that has had its fair share of issues like housing and unemployment. Last year, Te Puni Kokiri invested $160,000 towards determining home ownership and helping them to tell their stories in te reo Maori. The Crown and Ngati Whare Trust also worked together to see a million-dollar native plant nursery built in the village to help create employment.

"Every day I remain steadfast to our tikanga and I go into battle for the things we as Maori treasure the most, on behalf of our people."