Political endorsements can shine up a grimy politician - or tarnish a statesman. This election, six respected New Zealanders have made their politics public for the first time.

Key Points:

When Colin Powell endorsed Barack Obama for the American presidency, it was a hammer-blow to the Republicans. Powell, a respected former general, was once Secretary of State to George W. Bush - but now he says Obama is best-equipped to take over as Leader of the Free World.

From the film studios of Hollywood to the high-rises of Wall St, political endorsements play a key role in American politics. And rightly so.

None of us can be experts on every aspect of the policy and track record of those who vie to lead us. Most of us inform ourselves as best we can through information provided by the parties and the media, but we also take into account the views of our friends, families and others whose judgment we trust.

Thus it is legitimate to consider the political endorsements of those who have excelled in fields such as arts, sport and business. If we respect their professional judgments - on the playing field or in the boardroom - we may also respect their political judgments.

Other endorsements we may choose to disregard. Last week, Winston Peters could probably have done without the support of the skinhead leader of the far-right National Front.

However well-respected someone is, they can still make mistakes. Richard Long, the former television newsreader, will always regret fronting advertisements for Hanover Finance, in which he promised that the investment company could "withstand any conditions".

All Black great Colin Meads will similarly rue promoting Provincial Finance, which went into receivership in 2006. Anyone can advise us how to cast our secret ballot, but the final decision is our own.

The New Zealanders who feature on these pages have made a carefully considered decision to share their thinking with the Herald on Sunday, a week out from an election that will decide who steers the country through the troubled economic waters ahead.

Sir Paul Reeves
Sir Paul Reeves flew to Shanghai a few days ago, hoping the distance might preserve him from the wrath of Labour's leaders when they discover he has turned away from them.

The former Anglican Archbishop was appointed Governor-General from 1985 until 1990, on the advice of David Lange's Labour Government. He has, for many years, been close to Labour. Until now.

Sir Paul, 75, will desert Labour for the first time in his life, and vote for Maori Party co-leader Pita Sharples. Sir Paul's iwi is Te Atiawa, from Taranaki, but he lives in Remuera in Sharples' electorate.

"I know the principle figures in the Labour administration well," he says. "This may put a strain on that."

Labour will still get his party vote, and he would prefer that the Maori Party formed a government with Labour, rather than National. "I hope Labour will not see me as jumping ship, but as now being a traveller on a bigger ship, where there is now room for the Maori Party and others."

The churchman says his has not been a sudden conversion: "I'm not a road to Damascus sort of man." Instead, he has watched the Maori Party closely over the past three years and been impressed by the MPs' responsible behaviour in Parliament.

What of Helen Clark and John Key? He responds carefully: "They are doing their best in their situations."

Graham Lowe
Rugby league icon Graham Lowe lived his life in Labour's heartland, growing up in a state house and rising to the top of the most working class of sports.

But next week he's ending a 40-year relationship with Labour to vote ACT.

What changed for the 62-year-old former Kiwis coach and soon-to-be published author was the arrival of his twin boys Jack and Sam, now 5.

"I look to the future, and there are some things I don't like and they seem to be getting worse. I think that law and order and what's right and what's wrong will play a major part in how my boys grow up," he says.

"Rodney [Hide] seems to be someone who's got a tough way of dealing with things and I'm thinking that's the only way to deal with these issues."

His sense is that Hide shares the values he grew up with in Mt Roskill in the 50s.

"There was a thing called respect. I like what Rodney's saying about respect. "They're the values I want my children to grow up with. Rodney's not prepared to compromise what he believes in to fit in with mediocrity."

The other day, he went so far as to phone Hide to pledge his support. It was a big deal - he knows Helen Clark personally.

"I felt a little part of me was betraying Helen as a person. But when I made the decision I made it. And I'm glad I have.

"I like Helen, and John Key seems a nice bloke, too. But a lot of their policies seem similar and they both seem to be playing catch-up football. Rodney has gone out on the attack. He's not prepared to be satisfied with what's happening. He doesn't compromise."

Oscar Kightley
Oscar Kightley comes in many guises: he is the laughing TV sportscaster; he is part of the warmly subversive comedy troupe, The Naked Samoans; he is co-writer and star of Sione's Wedding; he is his own teen alter-ego, the mellow Vale Pepelo in bro'Town.

And now, the 39-year-old is a Labour man. "I've always been reluctant to show my colours, but I'm getting older and realising the importance of standing up for something," says Samoan-born Kightley. "Election day is the only day everyone is truly equal."

The Government's done a good job, he maintains. "I'm glad they've been frugal because we might be in a worse position now if they hadn't."

Wealth is only one measure. "I want everyone to prosper, including the capitalists. But you should judge a society on more than how easy it is to make money. [Labour] offers a more caring, inclusive society. We're only as strong as our weakest citizens, and there will always be people who need looking after. "I don't believe everyone has the capacity to become all they can be. We're not all given the same opportunities growing up."

If Labour voters needed any reaffirmation, they got it from National MP Lockwood Smith, who paraphrased orchardists' comments about Pacific Islanders' toiletting and hands.

"Talking about people like they were animals ... it's not the context, it's that he said it as a fact. It scares me that people who think like that could be in power."

Kightley supports the anti-smacking law. "The only way to reduce violence in society is to reduce violence in the home".

And he defends Labour leader Helen Clark against nannyism charges: "We can't have that much to complain about if what people complain about is that our leader is too domineering about looking after people."

Miriama Smith
Miriama Smith has most recently been seen casting her votes for a more motley - and probably more appealing - array of contenders as a judge on New Zealand's Got Talent.

The vivacious presenter and actor is a familiar face on the small screen, having appeared in Shortland Street and other local drama, and reaching the semifinals of Dancing with the Stars.

Now she's joining fellow thespians Robyn Malcolm and Miranda Harcourt in publicly backing the Greens.

In the past, she split her vote - party vote to the Greens for its policies, electorate to Labour for the sake of consistency.

But this time, she's giving two ticks to the Greens. It helped that the party has named Labour as its preferred coalition party.

"I felt confident in their conviction, they backed themselves and I wanted to back them. I watch people like Winston Peters - they all deflect, no one answers a question straight, it's the tail wagging the dog constantly."

Jeanette Fitzsimons' performance at the recent leader's debate clinched it for Smith. "She stands her ground, she knows her policies. She was one of the few leaders who didn't deflect questions, she just puts it out there."

She still holds Helen Clark in high regard. "She's been a great leader - she's got command, she's unfaltering".

But it's the Greens' long-range vision for sustainability, and its consistency that won Smith's allegiance.

"The Greens stick with what they believe in; it's not policies of convenience, it's policies of passion."

She believes New Zealand can't afford not to pay the initial price of carbon taxes and redirecting funding to projects such as sustainable housing and public transport.

"Initially there's got to be an upheaval for improvement in the long term. It's like anything: you've got to adjust. But it's all about the long-term plan. Because of what's happening with climate change and everything we've got to reverse those processes anyway."

Michael Hill
Michael Hill. Jeweller. Golfer. Nat.

The country's most-recognised retailer says the changing economy makes it critical that the Government is changed.

Why has he decided to publicly endorse a political party for the first time? "I probably should come out of the closet now. I've never really liked to voice an opinion, but the times are critical. It's just been gradually building up, but the tipping point is the rapidly changing economy," he says.

"We're over-governed here to such an unbelievable degree. You can't even make a decision for yourself any more and that's a very sad state of affairs. We can't stand this any more - we can only grin and bear it for so long."

Hill has been named Entrepreneur of the Year, and will contest the world title in Monte Carlo next year.

But the glamour of black-tie balls and Martinis did not come easily. "I was brought up tough," he says. "To be a success in life, you need to be able to take knocks. I trip up, I make mistakes, but I learn from them."

Hill spent 23 years working for a family member before setting out on his own with his first jeweller's store. Now he employs 2400 "associates" in New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States.

But he does not believe New Zealand still offers the same opportunities for young people. "I don't think I could do now what I did when I was younger. We're just bogged down - it's quite sad."

"The trouble with New Zealand is there's far too much bureaucracy. We've got so many rules that it's so easy for somebody to spend all their time out the back working out what's what, rather than being on the floor. It's a massive distraction." Hill will vote for the National Party.

"It's time for a change. This Government isn't going to change anything. "I think John Key is a do it' man, rather than someone who bickers and finds fault. It seems in politics that everyone else is intent on digging dirt on people. It's a wonder they have time to manage the country."

Bevan Docherty
Bevan Docherty has been called "Mr Consistency" for his reliably excellent triathlon performance (last year's world champion; a two-time Olympian).

But this election will bring an upset in his voting record: the usually-Labour voter is switching to National.

Yes, Helen Clark's done a great job, "but she just surrounds herself with idiots - the Benson-Popes. She sticks up for them and they end up shitting on her".

National's pro-growth, pro-development themes stole his heart. "Sure, it's tough economic times and we're just a little country that seems to be dictate to by the United States, but we seem to have stalled a bit."

He likes National's approach to sports funding, and derives hope from shades of "Think Big" Muldoonism. "We need a Government that will start thinking big for the future."

He spends half his time in Boulder, Colorado ("full of hippies and athletes") and will be there for the US election last week with his American fiancee. She's switching allegiances this year, too, renouncing her Republican stripes and voting Obama. He'd vote Obama if he could.

Going between the countries, he's struck by differences in the campaigns.

"Those guys over there are superstars."

He's seen the amped crowds at rallies, the front yards stuck with Obamas and McCains. One Friday night, he and his fiancée went to the cinema and found it half-deserted.

"I said to the guy selling tickets 'where is everybody?' He said 'there's a debate on TV'."

Docherty prefers the clear-cut, two-horse US race.

"I hate these coalition deals because parties sell themselves short to get those extra seats. It would be a lot easier to vote in the US than in New Zealand: no one's a stand-out here."