National candidate Matt King's election night win in the Northland electorate — if confirmed in the final count — was bittersweet.
Sweet, because he swam against a Labour tide that engulfed New Zealand and swept away even veteran National politicians.
Bitter, because his party was dealt its worst drubbing in almost 20 years and many of his colleagues won't make it back to Parliament.
King now faces an anxious two-week wait for the final results.
By the end of election night he was 742 votes ahead of his nearest rival, Labour's Willow-Jean Prime.
However, special votes, which usually favour Labour and the Greens, could wipe out his narrow margin.
Prime's list placing means she'll be back in the Beehive either way but King, ranked 40th on the National list, needs to win the seat.
Saturday's election drew the curtains on NZ First's three consecutive terms in Parliament.
The party fell well short of the 5 per cent threshold, which meant Shane Jones had to win Northland, but he finished a distant third — more than 10,000 votes behind the frontrunners.
Speaking at NZ First headquarters at the Duke of Marlborough in Russell, Jones said he was ''astounded'' by Labour's performance in rural seats and the close race between the two big parties in Northland.
''Let's face it, there was a red tsunami, and the public were obviously tuned in to the whole Covid kōrero ... it was not a night for us.''
He did, however, manage to find an upside to losing his job as an MP.
''To all the people who have been bitching and moaning about me, and complaining to me about the effects of the Government's policies, I will now say, 'Trot off and see Matt King'.''
No one would be able to claim he and NZ First did not deliver for Northland over the past three years, he said.
King was joined at his election night headquarters at the Pioneer Tavern in Waipapa by about 80 supporters from as far away as Warkworth.
A festive atmosphere early in the night became subdued as the lead for the Northland seat see-sawed between King and Prime, and later as the scale of National's defeat became clear.
King said the result was still too close to call when it came time for his supporters to go home around 11pm.
''It's on a knife edge,'' he said.
Speaking from his home in Ōkaihau yesterday, King said the results were ''surreal'' and ''unprecedented''.
The fact Labour had dominated the party vote even in Northland told him the ''Jacinda-Covid effect'' had turned the election on its head.
''Though we certainly made a few faux pas in our final weeks and we haven't been the most unified party. That's really disappointing.''
King said National leader Judith Collins had his 100 per cent support.
It was frustrating that a significant proportion of Northland's ''blue candidate vote'' had gone to Act and the New Conservatives, because those 1700-plus ''wasted'' votes could have made his margin secure.
If he was returned to Parliament he would focus on holding the Government to account and making sure it honoured $550 million of spending it had pledged to Northland.
King has been critical of Jones' Provincial Growth Fund but he said some projects, such as roundabouts, irrigation schemes and sports hubs in Kaikohe and Kaitaia, were worthwhile.
He congratulated Labour and Chloe Swarbrick — only the second Green MP to win an electorate seat, if election night results are confirmed — but was disappointed many of his friends and colleagues wouldn't make it back into Parliament.
"I'm really concerned that we're going to lose some really good, talented, experienced people, and that's the saddest part of it ... But that's political life, you just have to go with it."
Labour's Willow-Jean Prime said people thought she was crazy when she first stood in the safe blue seat in 2014, so it was a ''fantastic result'' to claw National's majority back to just over 700.
She was also proud of her team for winning the party vote in Northland, which showed she was starting to build momentum.
The ''huge swing'' to Labour was mainly due to the party's handling of the Covid pandemic and Jacinda Ardern's leadership, but helped by difficulties within National.
Act's Mark Cameron, who was eighth on the party list, is Northland's newest MP. The party's 8 per cent share of the vote entitles it to 10 seats.
The Ruawai dairy farmer, who was yesterday on his way to Auckland for his first ever caucus meeting, said he wasn't surprised by Act's strong showing in Northland.
He put it down to concerns that the farming sector wasn't being treated like a valued part of society.
''Dear old National may have dropped the ball when it comes to rural New Zealand,'' he said.
His party would focus on ''objective criticism, helpful suggestions and honest dialogue'' about New Zealand's post-Covid recovery.
Labour even won the party vote in Northland, a longtime National stronghold, although Labour's share of the total vote (42.7 per cent) was lower than for New Zealand overall (49.1 per cent). National did better in Northland than in New Zealand overall, as did NZ First, Act, Advance NZ and New Conservative. The Greens polled lower in Northland than in New Zealand overall.
NORTHLAND PROVISIONAL RESULTS
Matt King 15,332; Willow-Jean Prime 14,590; Shane Jones 4543; Darleen Tana Hoff-Nielsen 1301; Mark Cameron 1104; Nathan Mitchell 682; Trevor Barfoote 599; Mike Shaw 409; Helen Jeremiah 254; Michele Mitcalfe 167; Brad Flutey 73; Sophia Xiao-Colley 25.
PARTY VOTE (parties polling over 1 per cent)
Labour 42.7 per cent, National 28.5, Act 9.8, NZ First 5.9, Greens 5.7, New Conservative 1.9, Advance NZ 1.9.