The pressure is on in most electorates this weekend. In some, the battle will be especially close. We take a closer look at 10 of these seats.

Auckland Central

Location, recent history and emerging female leaders make Auckland Central a compelling election watch. The seat, which straddles the western bays, central city and gulf islands has become a strategic prize, with the waterfront and CBD the shop window for Auckland's transition to an international city. It is also the powerbase of the united Auckland Council.

Millions were spent here ahead of the Rugby World Cup - a distraction which has helped National bury resentment for the dictatorial manner of its city governance reform. But local and central government issues remain entwined in voters' minds - constants at public meetings include the CBD rail loop, Queen's Wharf, urban design and schools for the soaring inner-city population.

Driven National newcomer Nikki Kaye broke Labour's long grip on the seat in 2008, in part reflecting changed demographics. She has vaulted up the list of her gender-challenged party but is determined to keep the seat. She seems poised for promotion either way for her enthusiastic electorate work and performance in local government and the environment.


Labour is fighting like with like with a rising star of its own in list MP Jacinda Ardern. The pair are the same age (young, in political terms), smart, broadminded, in touch with younger voters and environmentally conscious: tailor-made for one of the country's more liberal, diverse and better-educated constituencies. They've been stalking each other for 18 months. But this is no straight shoot-out. The X-factor comes from the Greens, who enjoy consistently strong support here - although they've left it late to really plug their candidate, Denise Roche.

The low number of young voters enrolled by deadline suggests a trick has been missed in maximising their party vote.

Roche, a former Auckland City councillor who lives on Waiheke, is an interesting mix of unionist and environmentalist and could still make it difficult for Ardern to haul in Kaye. She's as concerned about poverty as recycling and the state of the gulf.

All three could end up in Parliament if the Greens can build on current nationwide polling of about 12.6 per cent.

National is vulnerable for its reluctance to fund the underground city rail loop and last year's proposal to open up conservation land (including on Great Barrier) for mining.

At a public meeting recently, National and Labour drew flak over the response to the Rena disaster - Roche scoring points over deregulation.

Kaye sided against her party on mining and adroitly pushes integrated public transport, including trams.

Muesli-belt (Grey Lynn and Waiheke) liberals may vote on these issues but Kaye claims it may come down to hip-pocket economics, with the area's many small businesses wary of further costs.

Ardern may not be able to mobilise the unions as Labour once could but Mike Lee's ward win in last year's council contest shows it can still muster considerable centre-left support.

As one voter sees it, Auckland Central could be as tight as the World Cup final.

If voters along Ponsonby's cafe strip are a guide, everything hangs on the next fortnight.

* "Is three years up already since Helen?" - a Niuean woman who believes Winston Peters should be Prime Minister.

* "I'm most passionate about getting some decent public transport." - Herne Bay flight attendant Patrick Walsh.

* "The main issue is the economy." - Richard Mannell, St Marys Bay.

- Geoff Cumming

It's a changed local political landscape for Waiariki incumbent Te Ururoa Flavell, facing one of his former allies.

Mr Flavell has comfortably held the seat since 2005 when the Maori Party was created amid anger and frustration at the Labour government's foreshore and seabed legislation.

But discontent with changes made to the legislation prompted the defection of one of Mr Flavell's closest supporters, lawyer Annette Sykes, to the Hone Harawira-led Mana Party.

Ms Sykes said Mr Flavell had let down dozens of coastal hapu and iwi within the electorate by failing to stop energy giant Petrobras' mining exploration permit and by supporting the Marine and Coastal Area Act.

Mr Flavell says he has raised concerns with Petrobras and consulted iwi over the Marine and Coastal Area Act.

"I went around the electorate and asked the question and I told all the people involved with the Maori Party what the scenario was [with the legislation] and they told me to carry on," he said.

"Those people have put me in and those are the people I listen to."

Ms Sykes, a former Maori Party financial member, disagrees.

"Te Arawa, Tauranga Moana and Ngati Awa all made submissions to the select committee saying 'you've got it wrong' ... 71 of 72 iwi said 'this is not right' and he seemed to know better."

Mr Flavell, Ms Sykes and Labour's Louis Te Kani do agree on addressing high levels of Maori unemployment, the cost of living and improved education in an electorate where more than 40 per cent of Maori children attend decile one and two schools.

Mr Flavell, who has a Ngati Rangiwewehi and Ngapuhi whakapapa, will draw support from within the conservative ranks of Te Arawa. Tipped to become Maori Party leader when Pita Sharples steps down, he holds the advantage with his party's well-established - though not well-funded - electorate infrastructure.

Kawerau-raised Ms Sykes believes her backing will come from her iwi, Ngati Pikiao and Ngati Makino, and from within the Tuhoe boundaries. She also claims support from the Eastern Bay of Plenty and iwi such as Te Whanau a Apanui.

Mr Te Kani believes the competition between Mr Flavell and Ms Sykes will split the vote.

The Rotorua lawyer said Labour's foreshore and seabed legislation was a debacle but the version the Maori Party had agreed to with National was even worse.

- James Ihaka
Te Atatu

With longtime Te Atatu MP Chris Carter exiled to Afghanistan, the National Party's Tau Henare may feel his time has come to claim the West Auckland seat for the first time.

Henare, who calls himself the "West Side Tory", has been steadily scraping away at Carter's stranglehold on the electorate, reducing the gap from 11,000 votes in the 2003 general election to 4000 in 2008.

He will also be encouraged by a huge swing in support at the previous election which saw the National Party top the party vote by just 12 votes - the closest battle in the country.

In Henare's way is Labour Party list MP Phil Twyford, who has replaced Carter in the candidacy after coming second in the past two elections while standing in the North Shore.

The Oxfam New Zealand founder has served one term in Parliament, but as 33rd in this year's Labour Party list his return is far from secure.

After Labour expelled Carter last year and he left for a job in Kabul, party president Andrew Little said his replacement would have to repair the damage done by his messy departure.

But a lot of goodwill remains in Te Atatu for Carter's work during 15 years as an MP.

Twyford knows he cannot take it for granted that this goodwill will automatically transfer to him. He plans to hold 100 street meetings in every corner of his electorate before November 26.

Henare said Te Atatu was now a level playing field, but he was wary of the support that remained for Labour from Carter's time in the seat.

Two local issues are likely to define the election race - transport and jobs.

The main rail network veers away from the area towards Helensville, and crippling congestion affects not only the Northwestern Motorway but most arterial roads.

Henare believes National's backing of the Western Corridor will win votes, but Twyford has tabled an alternative - a busway from Westgate to the city.

Te Atatu has also acutely felt the pinch of the economic downturn because its younger-than-average workforce is over-represented in retail, construction and trades.

- Isaac Davison

Whether they like it or not, the voters of Epsom are caught up over the future of centre-right politics in Parliament.

But instead of matters being a simple case of National supporters voting in droves for the Act candidate, like they did in 2008, the exercise has become very messy.

Hardly a day goes by without a new twist to the plot, leaving Epsom voters scratching their heads about who to give their electorate vote to.

The only certainty is National will romp home in the party vote, like it did three years ago, with 20,030 votes to Labour's 7711.

Prime Minister John Key gave Epsom's National supporters a clear message to vote for Mr Banks to ensure Act is returned to Parliament to support a National government.

But what began as a media event over a cup of tea in a cafe came to dominate headlines last week over what was said in the "teapot tape" - a recording of the conversation between Mr Key and Mr Banks.

There has been speculation over Don Brash's leadership of Act and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters suggesting Mr Key made comments offensive to NZ First's elderly supporters. Even before that Epsom voters were wary about tactical voting.

A Key Research poll of 500 Epsom voters commissioned by the Herald on Sunday and published on October 9 found 32.9 per cent support for National's Paul Goldsmith and 18.9 per cent for Mr Banks.

A Herald street survey of 47 Epsom voters this month found mixed support for Mr Banks.

Parnell businessman Keith McConnell, admired Mr Banks' "no bullshit" style, while two Remuera businessmen said they were waiting for a signal from Mr Key to determine their electorate votes.

Michael Wall, a 62-year-old Parnell resident and staunch National supporter, said the election was "the greatest opportunity to get rid of the selfish, self-centred Act Party".

Mr Goldsmith is doing his best to be the non-candidate, thanking supporters who want him as their MP while campaigning for the party vote.

Labour and Green candidates pulled nearly 8000 votes in 2008. Labour candidate David Parker is urging people not to split their candidate and party votes, while the Greens' David Hay is focused on raising the party vote by 50 per cent.

With the Greens at 12.6 per cent in the latest Herald-DigiPoll survey and placed 16th on the party list, Mr Hay is on the cusp of making it to Parliament.

Mr Parker, Labour's associate finance spokesman, said he was standing to hold Act to account over its record and as a platform to explain Labour's economic policy.

Peter Lange, brother of former Labour Prime Minister David Lange, is encouraging voters to "hold your nose" and vote for Mr Goldsmith. Mr Lange said his unofficial campaign was a counter-attack to Mr Key's "match fixing" and an attempt to "put Act out of its own misery".

- Bernard Orsman

It's shaping up to be the "battle of the bolshy chicks" in Waitakere - and none of the leading ladies are taking anything for granted at this stage.

National's Paula Bennett narrowly snatched the West Auckland electorate from Labour's Lynne Pillay at the last election.

Just 632 votes separated the two parties then, and it's likely to be yet another close race this year.

Seven candidates are standing, but the real race looks to be between Ms Bennett and Labour's Carmel Sepuloni. Mana party's Sue Bradford presents an unknown factor. All three agree a lack of jobs is a big issue.

Act is not standing a candidate this year at the request of National because National's majority is small.

The question is whether Ms Bradford, well-known and with a green background, will take any of Ms Sepuloni's much-needed votes.

Waitakere is working class, and voter turnout has traditionally been slightly lower than the national average, so candidates say they will be working hard to get everyone involved.

Ms Bradford has only just moved back into the area but used to live in Ranui. Her children attended the local schools.

She believes poverty, a lack of housing and a lack of jobs are key issues. About 1200 people queuing for 40 jobs at the opening of a new supermarket in Glen Eden recently is an indicator of how desperate people are to find work, she says.

"I think the big issues in Waitakere are unemployment - especially for young people, Maori, Pacific Islanders and the migrant community."

Ms Sepuloni - who replaces Labour's defeated Ms Pillay in the electorate - also believes poverty and "underemployment" are big issues.

She says she repeatedly hears about the cost of living from residents, with many struggling to put food on the table and some senior citizens even turning off the hot water and showering only every second day to save money.

Ms Bennett, who drives a leopard-print painted car with "Proud to be a Westie" across the side, agrees that lack of jobs is a key issue. The electorate has less industry than many other areas. She also believes transport and education are big issues.

"I think it's feisty out here - people tell you what they think and the candidates kind of reflect that as well ... The Auckland Central race seems reasonably polite and is the battle of the babes - this is probably the battle of the bolshy chicks."

- Elizabeth Binning

The waterfront suburbs of Orakei, Mission Bay, Kohimarama, St Heliers and Glendowie are the Tamaki electorate's prosperous smiley faces hiding extremes of wealth and poverty.

Within 2km inland of where a tower crane marks the home of the country's richest man, Graeme Hart, a young solo mother in a cold and mouldy state rental house invites visitors to sit on her only piece of furniture, an old couch. She has received notice from Housing New Zealand that her house is one of 156 to be redeveloped next year and she frets about her chances of getting another home in the area.

The state agency owns 57 per cent of housing in Tamaki. It thinks this is too much, and wants social housing to be provided by a mix of organisations.

The timing of the news and the signalled sale of some state houses have given Labour the rallying cry it needs to attract more party votes.

Its candidate, Nick Bakulich, is at a series of "call to action" meetings. The 40-year-old undertaker, who has managed an Onehunga business for 20 years, is leading a team in door knocking to check residents are enrolled to vote and have a ride to the polling booth.

The party vote for Labour in 2008 was 8152, compared with 11,890 in 2005. This reflected boundary changes in which a chunk of working-class Panmure went to the Maungakiekie electorate.

Like National candidate Simon O'Connor, Mr Bakulich is a new kid on the Tamaki block, but given the huge majority of National MP Allan Peachey, who died this month, Mr O'Connor's focus is on the party vote. Supporters are being warned not to be complacent and to give their party vote to National if they want John Key as Prime Minister. Last election, National's share of party votes was 60.22 per cent.

This was to be expected when Tamaki - in 2006 - had the country's third-highest percentage (40.1 per cent) of those with family incomes above $100,000.

Mr O'Connor, 35, a health insurance executive, holds four university degrees but people in Tamaki have high aspirations and there is a feeling that such a blue-ribbon seat should be represented by a top-notch minister.

However, Mr O'Connor's supporters point out that he has held commercial roles of high responsibility, and with a parliamentary apprenticeship and some electorate service under his belt, they say he is destined for the Cabinet room.

Act Party deputy leader John Boscawen is not seeking re-election but is standing in Tamaki to urge people to give their party vote to Act.

Green candidate Richard Leckinger reckons this time around he is getting a warmer reception to the party's policies, after pulling the Greens' vote up from 1400 to 2040 in 2008.

- Wayne Thompson

The northern Wellington seat of Ohariu is one of the most hotly contested, with only 294 votes separating United Future's Peter Dunne, Labour's Charles Chauvel and National's Katrina Shanks in 2008.

And it's still on a knife-edge. A Fairfax Media-Research International mini-poll of 163 people last week put Mr Dunne on 37.4 per cent, a hair quiff ahead of Mr Chauvel on 35.6 per cent.

Ms Shanks polled 19 per cent, but she has no intention of helping Mr Dunne by telling her supporters to vote for him. "I'm telling the people of Ohariu to make up their own mind ... My focus is on the party vote."

Ohariu, like Epsom, is a seat where 'strategic voting' is the phrase du jour. While the teacups are shelved, Mr Key spoke at United Future's annual conference and National has said it will only campaign for the party vote.

Despite the same strategy in 2008, Ms Shanks still won 10,009 votes. Earlier this year she indicated she was going to contest the electorate, but the party issued a statement within hours pulling her into line.

That does not stop her from mocking Mr Dunne's list of things he wants to achieve.

Mr Dunne's list includes developing the Northern Wellington Festival and revitalising the Residents' Associations.

"Well, that's just the Christmas Parade," Ms Shanks says of the former, "and we've already got all of the associations up and running, so that's an easy one to tick off."

Her own list would include promoting Ohariu as a business centre to make use of empty industrial space, a small cinema for the area, and extending the cycle/walk path so it goes right through the electorate.

Mr Chauvel, who wants more libraries, parks, sports facilities and better public transport, says: "At 57, after 27 years as the local MP, [Mr Dunne's] probably got another term or two. People are thinking long-term. I'm hopeful in a future Labour Government I would have the honour of serving at a senior level."

Mr Dunne has been the MP for the area since 1984. His message is his track record, and that he is likely to be in Government, an infinitely better place to gain policy wins.

Meanwhile Green supporters seem to be splitting their vote. In the mini-poll, the Greens had 15.6 per cent support compared to Green candidate Gareth Hughes' 1.4 per cent.

- Derek Cheng
New Plymouth

At New Plymouth's waterfront Gustos restaurant, about 50 members of the Taranaki Young Professionals group are listening to the local candidates.

It's a fairly good turnout, Dan Walker explains, both because of the free beer and because this is the most marginal electorate in the country.

The group is sponsored by ITL Oil and Gas Specialists, and among them is accountant Stephen Goble, 42, who is refreshingly honest about what will influence his vote.

"Selfishness. I'm going National for lower taxes," he says, adding that he's also voting National because his parents are farmers concerned about the emissions trading scheme.

This is New Plymouth, the land of milk and oil - white gold from the farms, and black gold out to sea. It is also heavily reliant on manufacturing, and the port, roading and bottlenecks to the city's north are ongoing issues.

National's Jonathan Young scraped in with a 105-vote majority in 2008, unseating Labour's Harry Duynhoven who had held it since 1987, with a break between 1990 and 1993.

On paper, it should be Young's. By 2008, much of Duynhoven's vote was personal support, rather than Labour support. In 2008, National got 50 per cent of the party vote to Labour's 31 per cent. Young is also now the incumbent and has had time to become better known.

Rural tracts from Waitara to Okato mean there is a significant farming vote and Labour's capital gains tax and earlier phasing in of agriculture to the ETS will not help Little.

Young also has a strong family history in the area - his father, Venn Young, was the MP for the south Taranaki rural Egmont and Waitotara electorates from 1966 to 1990. And his uncle John headed the local hospital board and Port Taranaki.

But the seat has swung five times between National and Labour MPs since 1966, when Labour won it.

Young could also get some backlash from the 'deal' between National and Act, under which Act agreed not to stand a candidate to increase Young's chances of holding it.

Young - a former teacher and church minister - returned to New Plymouth in 2008 when he won.

Born-and-bred local Little has described the Act deal as "desperate". He has not benefited from a similar deal - the Greens are still standing a candidate and there's independent Rusty Kane, whose 756 votes in 2008 were seen by Duynhoven as the difference between winning and losing.

- Claire Trevett
Tamaki Makaurau

The underdog tag for Labour MP Shane Jones isn't one that fits him well but the former corporate highflyer finds himself in exactly that position as he trails incumbent Tamaki Makaurau MP Dr Pita Sharples.

On paper it is a heavyweight fight and there was a theory floating around earlier in the year that the advent of Mana would allow Labour to come through the middle as Hone Harawira's party and the Maori Party cannibalised each other.

Last election, Dr Sharples won 64 per cent of the vote. A recent Te Karere DigiPoll survey had 58 per cent of voters backing him again. Mr Jones trailed with 23 per cent, followed by Mana's Kereama Pene on a respectable 14 per cent.

The Maori seat is uniquely different from the six other seats which mix large tracts of rural New Zealand. This electorate is based exclusively in Auckland where most Maori live away from their tribal roots or don't know them.

Harvard-educated Mr Jones is a son of the north from Te Aupouri. Alist MP since 2005 after a stellarcareer at Te Ohu Kaimoana, in thepast he has been touted as a future leader of his party.

Campaigning here is different from Te Tai Tokerau, the seat's northern neighbour. There, politics tend to be played out in Maori institutions such as marae.

"Tamaki is totally different," Mr Jones said. "You have to go to the work sites, you have to go to social service providers, you go to the wananga and it's good if you can make it to sports events at the weekend."

Dr Sharples has a huge advantage in having lived in the city for more than four decades.

Mr Jones attended St Stephen's College in Bombay, but hasn't lived in the electorate. Nevertheless, he says he likes campaigning. But other elements such as being told he had no chance were "dispiriting", he said.

"The poll the other week wasn't too flash. You know as well as I do in Maori politics, personality is equally as important as policy."

He seems resigned to a situation where voters will back his party - and vote for Dr Sharples.

Dr Sharples said his strong faith in his electorate meant he had been able to travel and campaign for candidates in Te Tai Tonga and Ikaroa-Rawhiti.

Both men believe housing in the region is a huge issue. Dr Sharples says he needs to do more to advocate for Housing New Zealand tenants affected by development in Glen Innes.

Mr Jones believes a lack of supply across the city is a "shocker" for families and could be exacerbated by inadequate Auckland Council plans if the Government doesn't step in with a borrowing project to alleviate the problem.

- Yvonne Tahana
Te Tai Tokerau

Te Tai Tokerau was once considered a northern fortress for Hone Harawira - but voters have signalled while his support remains significant it's not what it once was.

The Mana Party leader, who left the Maori Party in acrimonious circumstances, won the seat after a rollicking battle in June.

Mr Harawira took the byelection with 6065 or 49 per cent of the vote, on a majority of 1117, a noticeable cut on the 2008 result which gave him 60 per cent of votes cast.

With two strong candidates in Kelvin Davis and the Maori Party's Waihoroi Shortland, a broadcaster, actor and te reo expert, chasing Mr Harawira it will be difficult to reach that level of support again.

A Te Karere-DigiPoll survey at the beginning of the month had Mr Harawira at 42 per cent support, Mr Davis at 35 and Mr Shortland on a respectable 20 per cent given his late selection.

Mr Shortland said he's under no illusion that a key part of the fight is overcoming Mr Harawira's personal support. Herald street surveys have found many Tai Tokerau voters like Mr Harawira's outspoken personality. He's perceived by supporters as true to his word and unafraid to stand up for what he believes in.

Mr Shortland's message is strategic. The Maori Party has shown it can work with other parties but no one wants to work with Mr Harawira, he said. Phil Goff has ruled out working with Mr Harawira and Mr Harawira has ruled out a relationship with National.

Tai Tokerau Maori perceive Mr Davis as a principled man, but he needs to go off-script more and instead of repeating Labour party lines ad nauseum, needs to connect more personally with voters.

Mr Davis believes to beat Mr Harawira he has to sell the message that Mana's policies, such as the Hone Heke tax targeted at the wealthy, are fanciful.

Mr Harawira believes he can be a force post the election. He believes the Labour leader will pick up the phone if he needs Mana to form a government and his work on the Maori affairs select committee inquiry into tobacco also proved he could work across Parliament, he said.

Retaining his seat doesn't mean he'll automatically bring friends with him. The Herald's latest Digi-Poll survey has the party registering .7 per cent and lawyer Annette Sykes, No 2 on the party list, will find it difficult to beat Waiariki MP Te Ururoa Flavell.

Northland iwi leaders said it would be interesting to see how Mr Harawira handles his frustration levels if he finds himself alienated on the crossbenches. Will he put his head down and do the work or will he blow a head gasket and be a glorified seat-warmer?

- Yvonne Tahana