Andrew Naera is cooking snapper and fried eggs for lunch at Te Runanga a Iwi o Ngapuhi in Kaikohe while talk of the Tai Tokerau byelection swirls around him.

It's a busy place as tribal members dip in and out of the midday hubbub to chat to iwi leaders, hapu development planners and social workers or just catch up on gossip.

The runanga was the first stop on a three-day trip during which the Herald spoke to voters in the electorate, which stretches from Waitakere to Cape Reinga. To take the temperature, we asked 57 voters on the Maori roll who they would vote for and why on June 25.

Turns out Mr Naera, 28, is so far backing the second most popular choice for voters - the "don't know candidate", he jokes.

He needs more time to assess what the candidates stand for and what that'll mean for him, and he's not alone.

In our street poll, 21 of the 57 voters said they would stick with Hone Harawira, but close behind, 20 said they were undecided.

The third most popular choice was Labour's Kelvin Davis, backed by 11 people, while the Maori Party's Solomon Tipene pulled four.

The byelection was called when Mr Harawira, who was elected to Parliament as a Maori Party MP, resigned last month to seek a new mandate from the electorate as leader of the Mana Party.

If Mr Harawira did not retain the seat, it would be a colossal embarrassment, and it's hard to imagine him not doing so.

In 2008, Mr Harawira won the seat with 12,019 votes, nearly 62 per cent of the ballot. Mr Davis got the nod from 5711 voters, or nearly 30 per cent. He became a list MP.

Since that election, acrimony and controversy around the Maori Party and its former MP have included the party threatening to kick him out in 2009, his jetting off to Paris, sending his infamous "white motherf******" email and musing that he'd be worried if his daughters brought home a Pakeha.

He's also made sincere and sustained efforts to curb smoking rates, which culminated in a Maori Affairs select committee inquiry last year.

This year, a protracted falling-out with his caucus MPs over a newspaper column set the scene for Mr Harawira to leave the party he helped to build.

But on the ground in the North, none of this really matters for his supporters. Former district nurse Wini Leach, 67, from Tautoro, loves Mr Harawira's bluntness. She believes he's a politician with integrity who regularly consults his constituents and represents them well. "He's like a leopard that doesn't change his spots. If he says he's going to do something, I can rely on it."

Others such as Turei Heke, 65, a chaplain from Ohaeawai, will vote for him just because he wants to see what Mr Harawira can do with the Mana Party in Parliament. "I'll give him a chance and see how he goes. I want to see how people respond to him."

Assuming Mr Harawira is re-elected, Mr Heke says it will be interesting to see after November's general election if he can build relationships in Parliament and be effective.

"The problem is, he's not very friendly with anyone. I'll give him a chance but if he stuffs it up - that's it. He's had his three chances."

Davina Duke, an art teacher at Kamo High School, will most likely vote for Mr Harawira. She says he has been "a bit dumb" on occasions, but she believes he is the victim of media spin. "In terms of his morals and just keeping that whakaaro, of always going back to the people, I've always liked that."

Six of the 20 undecided voters may vote for Mr Harawira.

But each of them has reservations about whether his mother, Titewhai Harawira, will be involved in the Mana Party.

Teacher Te Hauimua Kaka says that when Mrs Harawira abused Maori Party members at a hui at Waitangi, it made him reassess his support, even though he feels Mr Harawira best represents him.

"The problem I have with the Mana Party is his whanau; am I voting for Hone or his whanau? I want clarity on who is at the helm and I want to know upfront."

Voters who may be supporting either Mr Tipene or Mr Harawira don't have a bad word to say about Labour's candidate. Many say they like and respect Mr Davis, but if the street poll is any indication, that likeability factor won't get him over the line.

Still, Labour enjoys solid support from the electorate - in 2008 it won nearly 46 per cent of the party vote.

Hoani Hippolite, a senior constable, says he likes Mr Davis' sincerity, and others approve of his commitment to education. Another voter worries about whether Mr Davis will be confused with Kelvyn Alp, a Pakeha, who is standing for the OurNZ Party, in the voting booth.

The byelection won't affect Mr Davis' standing as a list MP.

Two voters say they will support Mr Davis because of bad personal experiences with Mr Harawira. Waina Adamson, 45, from Kaitaia, says it still rankles that Mr Harawira yelled at her to get some teabags for a teapot at a marae meeting a few years ago.

"I told him to get them himself. Let's just say I like Kelvin better."

Despite tough talking from the Maori Party that Solomon Tipene will win, to do so he'd have to leapfrog Mr Davis. After that he'd have to pirouette over Mr Harawira, which would be no mean feat.

The Maori Party has been rebuilding in the north since Mr Harawira's departure. New branches are up and running but the short gap between selection on May 25 and voting on June 25 will have done Mr Tipene no favours.

Kaumatua Nau Epiha believes Mr Tipene would be an excellent MP. He admires his army service and other roles.

"I've been with the Maori Party since it was invented and I'm staying with the Maori Party."

Lowdown on the leading candidates
Hone Harawira
Mana Party


Had a tumultuous time in politics over the past six months culminating in an agreement between himself and the Maori Party to part ways. He is using the Te Tai Tokerau byelection to launch the left-leaning Mana Party even though it isn't officially registered yet. The 56-year-old became an MP in 2005 after a long history of activism in Treaty and Maori rights issues. Has a strong base around Kaitaia, having set up Te Kura Kaupapa o Te Rangi Aniwaniwa, and broadcaster Te Hiku media. Married to Hilda, a staunch activist in her own right.

Kelvin Davis
Labour


A former principal of Kaitaia Intermediate School, the Labour Party candidate is coming to the end of his first term as a list MP.
He is passionate about education as a means for Maori to achieve their aspirations.
Some political pundits have called him a rising star within his party.
At present ranked at number 23 on Labour's party list.
Labour's tourism, special education and associate Maori affairs spokesman.
Married with three children.

Solomon Tipene
Maori Party


The 64-year-old wants to bring stability back to the electorate. His party is in rebuilding mode after Mr Harawira's departure. Mr Tipene has worked for Te Wananga o Aotearoa, the Open Polytechnic, Department of Corrections, New Zealand army, Maori Affairs and Social Welfare. Works for Whangarei District Council helping to engage iwi/hapu in council decision-making. Three children, six grandchildren, one great-grandchild.

Two others: Kelvyn Alp, OurNZ Party, and Maki Herbert, Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party.


POLL - OUT OF 57
21 Hone Harawira, Mana.
20 Don't know.
11 Kelvin Davis, Labour.
4 Solomon Tipene, Maori.
1 Doesn't like anyone.

THE NUMBERS
$500,000 cost of Te Tai Tokerau byelection.
6308 Hone Harawira's majority in the 2008 general election.
63 per cent turnout of voters last election.