When Prime Minister John Key dived into the "Kumara Capital" on his mercy mission yesterday, he discovered he could handle the sweet potatoes - but the hot potatoes caused him more trouble.

In Dargaville to save National's hide in the electorate, Mr Key arrived for a walkabout with candidate Mark Osborne. Dargaville is in the west of the electorate, and it didn't take long for Key to discover the West was won - by Winston Peters.

Key was greeted by protesters (from Auckland) brandishing signs about former Northland MP Mike Sabin. Independent candidate Bruce Rogan from Mangawhai was also there with a sign, urging everybody to vote for Winston Peters.

"Do not vote for me!" he called. Mr Key made it five steps before he was bailed up by Victoria, asking about the closure of Dargaville's court and rail problems. Next he stopped to talk to Jean O'Neill, observing she was standing politely at the side of the fray. She replied: "It's no use talking to me. I've already voted. And I've voted for Winston."


He got some reprieve on the main street, partly because many he spoke to were tourists from Britain and Switzerland. With them he discussed David Cameron and George Osborne, and the cost of living in Switzerland.

Three lovely older ladies stopped to talk to him. One said she would vote for Osborne before spotting the anti-TPP sign and hollering "hooray for the TPP!", apparently just for the fun of it all.

Several others did not reveal who would get their tick, but when the Herald asked later if it was Peters they broke into giggles and rocketed off. To cap it off, Key and Osborne were trailed throughout by a young boy who held a Winston Peters pamphlet up to the window of every shop they entered, thrilling at his mischief.

Finally, it was off to inspect a kumara packing shed where there was much detailed discussion about the varieties of kumara, and Key showed off his juggling skills.

Today Mr Key is in the Bay of Islands, more likely National turf. On byelection day he will flee the country, heading to Australia for the Cricket World Cup final on Sunday and clearly hoping for at least one win out of his weekend.

Meanwhile, the man causing them such grief, NZ First leader Winston Peters, began his day at the the Moerewa freezing works. If the polls are right it won't be the only dead meat he sees in the byelection.

Debate on this article is now closed.