With half the Maori electorate Native Affairs televised debates and Marae Investigates Digipoll surveys in, it is clear that mana of different kinds will decide the outcomes of the Maori electorates.
At 58 per cent in the latest survey, Pita Sharples has an unassailable lead in Tamaki Makaurau. A feared split between the Maori Party and Mana allowing Labour through the middle has not materialised. Mana has taken votes from both Maori and Labour but more from the latter whose party vote and Shane Jones are down 17 per cent and 4 per cent respectively on the 2008 election. Jones is hampered by Labour policies ignoring Maori concerns, such as superannuation and asset sales.
Sharples is down from 65 per cent in 2008 but has a comfortable buffer and mana spanning several decades before the challenges from Mana and Greens newbies Kereama Pene and Mikaere Curtis.
The 17 per cent party vote for National, the highest of the Maori electorates, confirms the chocolate in the centre of the middle class jaffa is on the increase. There are more high earning Maori in Auckland than anywhere else.
The August Digipoll survey shows that in Waikato-Hauraki Maori Party defector Angeline Greensill, who lost by just 888 votes in 2008, has taken significant support to Mana ensuring Labour's Nanaia Mahuta an easy return to Parliament.
No one will beat Tariana Turia in Te Tai Hauauru her track record in the community instilling too much respect. However, Turia and indeed most of the incumbents thus far haven't looked good in the televised debates reciting party policy and past records in Parliament. In these uncertain times, Maori voters are more interested in personality not policy. They want assurance, leadership and stability from candidates who understand their concerns. Greens student Jack MacDonald fared well here. Young, bright, broad-minded he ably delivered personal views alongside party policies.
With over 50 per cent in the latest survey Te Ururoa Flavell will hold Waiariki. Labour's Louis Te Kani is second and Mana's Annette Sykes third although Sykes won the televised debate. She has natural political instincts, has been the most impressive new candidate in any electorate. But as a long-time Treaty lawyer she has enemies. Conservatives also rail on the acerbic edge she delivers. All allegiances aside, she is someone Maori should strive to see in Parliament one day.
If Hone Harawira wins Te Tai Tokerau, Mana lifts their party vote to 25 per cent in the Maori electorates and they take one per cent of the party vote in general seats, Sykes might sneak through on the list. An alignment of planets is required; and an eye on New Zealand First's rising party vote.
Mana has taken equally from Labour and Maori in Ikaroa-Rawhiti so Parekura Horomia will remain the man on the East Coast. New candidate Maori Party Na Raihania won the Native Affairs debate. Alongside Sykes, he would be an asset for Maori in the Beehive. Tawhai McClutchie of Mana rounds off the best prepared candidates in all the Maori electorates.
Ask anyone and a month ago Labour's Te Rino Tirakatene was going to win Te Tai Tonga. Not so now. Enthusiastic, bilingual and articulate Mana candidate and son of Ngapuhi "Hurricane" Clinton Dearlove stole the live debate. He will not win but who he takes votes from will decide the outcome.
Apart from a single good one-liner, that Maori Party budget gains were re-allocated monies, Tirakatene looked underprepared. He ought not count on heritage.
The inexplicable Maori Party strategy to drop hardworking Rahui Katene to 11 on the list has undermined her. It has also rallied support. Katene earned respect working her guts out in the kitchen of Rehua marae after the Christchurch quake and will not give up without a fight. Ngai Tahu may back Tirakatene, Wellington perhaps Katene. A wildcard; Ngapuhi are the second largest iwi in the South Island.
On 42 per cent in the survey Harawira is down seven points from the by-election. Labour's Kelvin Davis has also dropped to 37%. Waihoroi Shortland has lifted the Maori Party to 20% but is a long way off the 62% they won in 2008.
Harawira won the on air contest, strangely statesperson-like, as Davis and Shortland opted for an all-out personal attack perhaps with the aim of nipping the Mana Movement at infancy by destroying Harawira. Mana has eaten into Labour's party vote and if not at this election then certainly at the next is a threat to the Maori Party when Sharples and Turia step down.
That strategy may not win the seat but Davis and Shortland are safe on the lists. Shortland, the best new Maori Party candidate after Raihania, is number one on the list. Expect Harawira with the strongest door knocking campaign to win, perhaps narrowly.
Voter turnout will be lower this election, enthusiasm for an independent party to clean sweep the Maori electorates having waned.
Maori voters might keep an eye on the electoral referendum. The Colmar-Brunton poll favours MMP 45 to 30 per cent but an anti-MMP campaign begins this week led by Jordan Williams, Michael Bassett, and Peter Shirtcliffe whose 1993 campaign slashed support for MMP from 70 per cent to 53 per cent is worth heeding. MMP is More Maori in Parliament.
* Rawiri Taonui is Adjunct Professor of Indigenous Studies at AUT University.