East Coast, held by National's Anne Tolley since 2005, broke wide open with the incumbent's retirement.
In the red corner, list MP Kiri Allan is taking a second run at the seat, having been a shadow MP for the past three years. Allan can point to some success in bringing Provincial Growth Fund projects to Gisborne and Opotiki. She is therefore well known across the electorate, brings tonnes of energy, and is widely considered future Cabinet material. Allan also benefits from the mentorship of Sir Michael Cullen who, despite poor health, has thrown himself into the race. He's been active on the ground, handing out leaflets, putting up hoardings, and linking up Allan to the local business community.
National has also recruited well with Tania Tapsell, a well known Rotorua city councillor often cited as the likely next mayor. Tapsell, whose surname is often linked to Labour because of her grand-uncle Peter's long tenure as MP for Eastern Maori, brings a strong background in business and considerable political talents.
Turnout could be the factor that makes the difference - and whether ACT and New Conservatives peel off many centre-right voters. While I'm picking a close fight, Allan has the edge.
In the seat of Whanganui, incumbent National MP Harete Hipango sits on a modest 1700 majority. After winning the 2017 nomination in controversial circumstances, Hipango is not overly popular within National Party circles but was nevertheless promoted in the most recent reshuffle by Judith Collins to shadow attorney general. Labour's Steph Ryan has been campaigning fulltime, building a powerful ground game with the support of local unions. Again, the electorate vote of smaller right-wing parties could play a role, but I expect Whanganui to land in Labour's hands for the first time in 15 years.
Based on a recent Māori TV poll, which showed Labour ahead by 12 points, the Waiariki electorate is again likely to deliver the tightest result among the Māori seats. I was one of few who picked Labour's Tamati Coffey to prevail last time. He's well known, works hard and, while limited by his stature as a backbench MP, his former TV profile keeps his name recognition healthy. Rawiri Waititi, the Maori Party candidate and son-in-law to leader John Tamihere, is something of a force of nature. His campaign reflects this larger-than-life personality, employing innovative techniques like flash mob kapa haka performances.
The Māori Party will be hoping to prevail here so that Waititi can bring Debbie Ngarewa-Packer into Parliament with him. In another year, he would be hard to stop.
AdvertisementAdvertise with NZME.
But Tamati's key advantage is Jacinda Ardern's popularity in Māori electorates - even JT admits his daughter is giving her party vote to Labour. In making his case, Coffey can point to some significant government investments, including a mussel farm in Opotiki and recently announced support for a Kawerau-based dairy processing plant.
But, most critically, Coffey also runs a strong ground game, including a far more sophisticated turnout operation than the Māori Party thanks to years of canvassing.
Meanwhile, I suspect Destiny Church's First Lady, Hanna Tamaki, will be lucky to get more than 800 to 1000 votes - but this further undermines Waititi's chances. For all these reasons, that race is too close to call.