The Northland electorate is shaping up to be one of the most important battlegrounds of the 2020 general election but two of the main contenders say they plan a clean fight.
Northland was once a National stronghold so impregnable that no one bothered putting up much of a contest.
All that changed in 2015 with NZ First leader Winston Peters' shock byelection win, though first-term National MP Matt King snatched the seat back in the 2017 election.
If traditional kingmakers NZ First are to make it back into Parliament the party will need to secure 5 per cent of the party vote — which would require a significant lift from current polling — or win an electorate seat.
NZ First's most likely seat is Northland where Awanui-raised, Kerikeri-based Shane Jones was formally announced as the party's candidate last weekend, confirming what had been described as Northland's worst kept secret.
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Political pundits are divided on Jones' chances of toppling King.
Some point to King's slender majority of 1389, Northlanders' track record of strategic voting, and the cash which has been raining on to Northland from Jones' Provincial Growth Fund.
Others say NZ First's 2015 win was a one-off in unique circumstances, and that Jones' style puts off as many voters as he wins over.
Where they agree is that Northland could decide the future of NZ First and hence the result of the election.
King told the Advocate that Northland was the electorate to win in September.
''Depending on how the cards fall it could determine who gets into government. I feel that weight on my shoulders but I can handle it.''
The farmer and former cop acknowledged his majority was a lot slimmer than that enjoyed by Northland MPs of the past.
''But that was against Winston Peters. Shane Jones is not Winston Peters. I'm hoping and planning to increase my majority but my stars will have to align. I'm not taking anything for granted.''
While Jones had the PGF on his side, King said he had been working hard on the ground for the past three years.
''I was one of the first new MPs to set up my office and I've done the hard yards advocating for Northlanders. They've seen various people turn up and throw money at the electorate but I think the average Northlander will see through that.
''We're not going to get nasty, unlike Shane Jones suggested in an interview recently. We're just going to fight a good battle and I'm confident I will win in the end.''
King agreed that Northlanders had felt neglected by successive Governments but said times had changed and both major parties recognised Northland needed investment.
Jones acknowledged he would have his work cut out winning the traditionally blue seat and revealed he had taken election advice from his mum.
''While it's a privilege to represent our party in Northland I also know Northland people have consistently sent back National MPs. But I say to Northland people, name me one substantial thing that National MPs have done for the North since the 1970s. The North has seen the value of MMP politics.''
Jones said the campaign would be vigorous with NZ First campaigning on its record. He had, however, been ''strongly advised'' by his mother to tone down his rhetoric.
''It'll be a campaign between Matt King, the King of Spades, and matua Shane Jones, the King of Hearts. There'll be a lot of humour and colour as well, which is what I believe the North wants to see. They don't want to see pettiness, they don't want negativity.''
If National did fight dirty, however, Jones said he would give as good as he got.