A globetrotting lawyer who's railed against "tough on crime rhetoric" and an Auckland restaurateur have been named as National Party challengers to conservative MP Simon O'Connor's reign in the Tāmaki seat.
It is the first time O'Connor has been challenged in the safe blue seat since he won in 2011.
This time around he'll be up against Auckland Harvard-educated lawyer Andrew Grant and Sang Cho, owner of St Heliers restaurant Annabelles.
The electorate covers Auckland's inner eastern bay suburbs - Mission Bay, St Heliers, Kohimarama and Glendowie - and was the seat of former PM Sir Robert Muldoon.
O'Connor, one of National's most conservative MPs, has confirmed he was seeking re-selection but was unable to discuss the selection due to National's selection process rules. The other nominees are also unable to comment.
Grant is a junior barrister at Shortland Chambers, which he joined in April this year. He's attended Harvard Law School and worked for four years in New York as a lawyer before recently returning to New Zealand.
He recently wrote in the Spinoff about how to address crime, stating that "the frequent reaction to a rise in criminal activity is to clamour for the government to 'get tough on crime' ".
A common refrain from National MPs of late has been that the Labour Government is "soft on crime".
Grant wrote that "harsher sentences for offending and a more aggressive approach to prosecution" don't actually make society safer.
He advocated for "addressing the causes of crime, and preventing repeat offending".
"It means stopping criminal activity at its source, and rehabilitating those who do offend, particularly at a young age, back into society."
Grant was one of those who helped former National MP Chris Finlayson with his recent book titled He Kupu Taurangi: Treaty Settlements and the Future of Aotearoa New Zealand.
The co-author of that book, James Christmas, is understood to be seeking the nomination for National in the Ilam electorate in Christchurch. Christmas, a Christchurch lawyer, was a former ministerial adviser to Finlayson, as well as former Prime Ministers Sir John Key and Bill English.
Cho meanwhile owns Annabelles restaurant in the Auckland suburb of St Heliers.
Cho was on the short-list to be a National Party candidate in Auckland Central at the 2020 general election, ultimately losing out to Emma Mellow.
He ended up running on the list at number 70.
Cho has been vocal in the St Heliers business and hospitality community, including advocating for changes to liquor licensing.
He also recently spoke out about crime in the area, after a neighbouring cafe owner suffered a heart attack hours after discovering his business was ram raided.
"This crime spree needs to be stopped, hence a lot of us have joined up on a community patrol and we'll be taking over what the police should be doing."
It is understood Claire Ward, the sister of blogger Cameron Slater, daughter of former party president John Slater, and family friend of Judith Collins, had also put her name forward, as reported by Politik.
Ward was a strong critic of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern during the Covid-19 lockdowns in 2021 in videos on social media criticising the impacts of lockdowns on businesses and mental health, as well as the vaccine mandates.
Whether O'Connor holds the seat will depend on whether he holds the support of the local party members and delegates. It is rare for a sitting MP to face a challenge in their own electorate. O'Connor held the seat with a 8000 majority last election.
All National candidates - including current MPs - have to go through National's new screening processes this election, including police checks and vetting of their social media and pasts. The party has further tweaked that after Tauranga MP Sam Uffindell disclosed a bullying incident at King's College, but that was not passed onto the delegates voting in the selection, party members or the public during the byelection.
O'Connor hit the headlines earlier this year for posting "today is a good day" on social media in response to the US Supreme Court overturning the Roe v Wade decision, opening the way for US states to make abortions illegal.
O'Connor took the post down at the request of leader Christopher Luxon, who is anti-abortion, but who said it was causing distress and did not represent the National Party position. Luxon has pledged not to change New Zealand's abortion laws if he is in Government.
O'Connor said his moral views were widely known by the electorate from the beginning of his political career. While they were occasionally highlighted by events such as conscience votes on issues such as euthanasia and abortion reform, he said they were usually in the background.
"They know I hold strong views but the main things we talk about are issues such as the cost of living and housing, not moral issues. [Those issues] may burn brightly for a few days, then they fall into the background where they should be," he said.
O'Connor is Simon Bridges' brother-in-law, and was one of the first to jump to Bridges' defence when former leader Collins tried to demote Bridges in November last year over an off-taste joke several years earlier. Ahead of the caucus meeting at which Collins was voted out of the leadership, O'Connor said he refused to serve under her and would surrender his portfolio areas if she remained leader.
Collins, who is expected to be re-selected as the party's Papakura candidate, lives in the Tāmaki electorate.
Now the three nominees have been selected they will go through a candidate selection process including interviews with the party delegates.
Collins today confirmed she would again be the National Party candidate for Papakura. She had no challengers.
Paul Goldsmith has also confirmed he is candidate in the Epsom electorate, the seat he is expected to lose to Act's David Seymour.