With under four weeks to go to the general election, Hawke’s Bay Today reporter Harrison Christian travelled from Wairoa to Dannevirke, across four electorates, conducting an unscientific, but revealing one-man-poll. He took the political temperature of the region by asking voters what the key election issues were and who they would be voting for. Today we take a look at the Napier electorate.

The Napier Electorate is in a quandary.

The two most populous centres within its boundaries couldn't be more different.

There's the eponymous Napier City, which considers itself the cultural and artistic mecca of the east.

Its 60,000 residents are hung up on a debate that may well decide who wins the seat: they are passionately opposed to amalgamating with evil twin city, Hastings; viewed as a debt-ridden hanger-on.

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To escape these residents, a pastoral drive north finds Wairoa, the second most populous centre in the electorate, a dwarf by comparison, and the only major rural service town in northern Hawke's Bay.

NAPIER ELECTORATE

• Total decided voters polled: 75

• This unscientific poll is of decided voters; 44 per cent of respondents were undecided.

• Percentages have been rounded up or down one decimal point.

Wairoa is 100km from anywhere else worth buying groceries - and has historically struggled with unemployment and gang violence.

It is trying not to fall victim to the glacial ruin faced by provincial towns across the country, and faces an uphill battle.

Beneath the awnings of certain eateries in Napier's CBD, or in Taradale's leafy streets, you'll find caffeinated professionals and sun-kissed pensioners, who are about as familiar with Wairoa's plight as they are with decent museums.

Many Wairoa residents feel cut out of the equation, although some of them share a stoic optimism that Wairoa is improving. But none I spoke to listed amalgamation among the issues relevant to the town.

Labour's candidate for the seat, Stuart Nash, is going into his second election on an anti-amalgamation ticket, and seems the favourite in both centres.

In Wairoa, Mr Nash is perceived as the best possible voice for the town and many residents have met him or seen him speak, while in Napier City his stance on amalgamation seems to be winning support.

There is a trend of vote-splitting, with Mr Nash the favorite local candidate, but National the preferred party.

Voters explained they thought Mr Nash would make a good MP for Napier, but they were struggling to be enthusiastic about Labour.

Some would also split their vote between Mr Nash and NZ First, citing Winston Peters' honesty as leader or his opposition to foreign asset sales.

Napier forestry investor Brian Quirk, who had stopped for a coffee in the CBD, was clear on where he stood on amalgamation.

"I'm definitely against it, because I don't see that Napier should be subsidising Hastings' spending ...why should we pay for them?=

"They don't want to build their own sewage treatment but they'd like us to pay for it, even though we've just paid for our own."

Mr Quirk added he'd like to see the mothballed Napier-Gisborne railway re-opened, as logging trucks were damaging the region's roads.

"I don't think the road is going to last long. It'll cost a lot when it starts failing in 10 years. Get forestry traffic off the roads and on to trains.

"They do it in Bay of Plenty, why don't they do it here? This Government has really let the regions go."

Mr Quirk would be giving two ticks to Labour.

National incumbent MP Chris Tremain has held the seat since 2005, when he beat Labour's Russell Fairbrother, winning the electorate for National for the first time since 1951.

Mr Tremain will retire this year and National's newcomer Wayne Walford will contest the seat.

Mr Walford has his work cut out; many Napier residents said they weren't familiar enough with his policies to give him their vote.

Napier company director Sarah Park said she didn't know what Mr Walford's mandate was.

"I prefer the National Party's policies but locally I think Stuart Nash has a strong voice. I like Wayne Walford but I haven't really seen much of what he's going to do in Napier.

"It may be because he's only recently stepped down from his role in the [Hawke's Bay] Chamber of Commerce. What's his policy? What's his mandate?

"I don't know what he's campaigning on."

There was sympathy for Mr Walford, too.

Wayne Steedman said his vote would go to the candidate, despite the loss of his ponytail, which Mr Walford had removed after it was deemed a barrier to communication. Mr Steedman mourned the loss of Mr Walford's locks.

"It was a statement - it made him look cool.

"I think you could trust a man like that."

Lifelong National voter Moyra Cox also bucked the trend, saying with almost maternal pride she was familiar with Mr Walford's policies, and thought he was "a very articulate and pleasant gentleman".

In Wairoa there is no talk of ponytails and Mr Walford is simply a face on a billboard.

Residents say they've yet to meet him and their biggest concern is a lack of jobs in the district.

Wairoa local Natal Tawhai said the town was struggling with unemployment and poverty, which was why Labour's free GP visits policy had swayed her vote.

"Free doctor's visits is fantastic, especially for little communities like this."

Originally from Wairoa, Ms Tawhai had recently returned to the town after two years living in Wellington.

She said there was a noticeable change in the town's atmosphere.

"It's uplifting to see changes here. They're revamping the main street, putting in gardens, and it feels safer now."

Ms Tawhai was referring to Upstream Wairoa, a group of local businesspeople working to beautify and modernise the town's CBD.

Wairoa is also home to habitual Labour voters who have swung to National this year.

St John ambulance officer Kevin English, who had parked up his ambulance for morning tea, said he used to be "a very strong Labour unionist," but had turned to National this year.

Wairoa ambulance officer Kevin English says his vote has swung between the major parties in recent years. Photo / Warren Buckland
Wairoa ambulance officer Kevin English says his vote has swung between the major parties in recent years. Photo / Warren Buckland

"About 10 years ago, I was a staunch unionist in the freezing works, but I've done a turnaround.

"These days, I don't trust Labour and I don't like their leader.

"I like the big picture and I want to get us out of debt. I think we've got to get some industry here in Wairoa - there's not enough industry to sustain the place."

Napier and Wairoa each have their share of apathetic voters, though they appear in different breeds.

In Napier, there are 20-somethings who say they've chosen to forgo their vote, as if to make some paradoxical political statement.

In Wairoa, low-paid workers and the unemployed express a different kind of apathy: they feel their votes are thrown away, and call into question the nature of our democracy.

There is doubt and hesitation and at every turn; as much as 44 per cent of respondents were undecided in Napier, which is more than any other electorate polled.

Many would-be voters recited that they'd been turned off by the dirty politics saga.

Some found solace in the arbitrary. Green Party voter Kau o te Rangi explained: "I think that's just the colour I like."

It is the best of times, it is the worst of times.

It is the urban, the rural, the haves and the have-not; the artists, farmers, young, retired and hard-done-by.

The Napier electorate has become an unlikely front for the major parties, and could cause a disturbance in this year's election if either side can accomplish the earth-moving task of winning it.

How they fared

Stuart Nash (Labour): 45 (60 per cent)
Wayne Walford (National): 26 (35 per cent)
Paul Bailey (Green): 4 (5 per cent)
Barry Pulford (Democrats for Social Credit): 0
Garth McVicar (Conservative): 0

PARTY VOTES

National: 37 (49 per cent)
Labour: 28 (37 per cent)
Green: 5 (7 per cent)
NZ First: 5 (7 per cent)
Act: 0
Conservative: 0
United future: 0
Maori: 0
Internet Mana: 0
Legalise Cannabis: 0

One-man poll series:
Today: Napier electorate

Tomorrow: Wairarapa electorate

Thursday: Ikaroa Rawhiti electorate