The latest in our electorate series takes a look at Te Tai Tokerau, where the Mana Party leader's once-formidable support is under threat from two challengers
Te Tai Tokerau was once considered a northern fortress for Hone Harawira - but voters have signalled that while his support remains significant, it's not what it once was.
November 26 will be the second time this year that these voters will head to the polls, after doing so in the June byelection. The Mana Party leader, who left the Maori Party in acrimonious circumstances, retained the seat after a rollicking battle.
Labour MP Kelvin Davis' surprise neck-and-neck polling with Mr Harawira ignited a contest in which a Ratana clergyman identified Mr Harawira as the prophet, the Maori Party's Solomon Tipene struggled under media scrutiny and Mr Harawira railed at his former colleagues when they failed to tell him Mr Tipene wasn't attending a debate - it transpired he was in hospital.
Mr Harawira took the byelection with 6065 votes, or 49 per cent of the vote. His majority was 1117, a cut on the 2008 result, in which he received 60 per cent of votes.
This time, with two strong candidates in Mr Davis and the Maori Party's Waihoroi Shortland, a broadcaster, actor and 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 on 42 per cent support, Mr Davis on 35 and Mr Shortland on a respectable 20 per cent, given his late selection.
The byelection's split vote was too close for comfort for Mr Harawira and he has restricted campaigning for Mana nationally to shore up home support. He remains the central figure in this battleground.
Mr Shortland says he's under no illusion that a key part of the fight is overcoming Mr Harawira's personal support. Herald street surveys have previously found that many Te Tai Tokerau voters like Mr Harawira's outspoken style. He's perceived by supporters as honest and unafraid to stand up for what he believes in.
It's a formidable barrier for challengers.
"This is about confronting Hone. Yes, it is about personalities. Yes, I do want to take him out," Mr Shortland said.
His 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.
Labour's Phil Goff has ruled out working with Mr Harawira and Mr Harawira has ruled out a relationship with National.
"Tai Tokerau's choice is to go out into the wilderness and flounder around," Mr Shortland said. "In Hone's case, he knows how to work a crowd. He promises heaven because he knows he doesn't have to pay for it."
The candidate who has the best chance of unseating Mr Harawira, Mr Davis, had a good tilt in the byelection. However, Maori Party voters who didn't vote for Mr Tipene in June may make their party support count at the ballot box this time around.
For Maori audiences charisma remains an important factor.
Mr Davis believes that 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. "All his policies depend on the tax being successful when the reality is it's a fiscal flop. Because it's a fiscal flop everything else that he's promising just isn't going to be possible."
Mr Harawira believes he can be a post-election force. He believes Mr Goff will pick up the phone if he needs Mana to help Labour 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 could see him bring friends back to Wellington, but it's not clear. The Herald's latest DigiPoll survey has the party registering 0.4 per cent support. However, pundits say Mana needs between 1.6 and 1.4 per cent of the party vote to bring lawyer Annette Sykes, who is number two on the party list, with him.
Asked if he can lead a national movement without neglecting the north, Mr Harawira said he was "crystal clear" he would be bringing Mana representatives into the House.
At the very least he believed Ms Sykes will join him, based on unscientific Herald streetpolls measuring party support.
Mr Harawira said he was committed to spending up to two days a week in the electorate and argued that social policies that made a difference in Tai Tokerau - for example, his feeding hungry kids and work schemes for the unemployed - would ultimately be good for the country.