Campaigning in the Te Tai Tokerau byelection has barely started and the Maori Party already looks to be out for the count, while Hone Harawira is staggering on his feet.

Such is the devastating impact of the poll released by Maori Television on Monday night. Whether or not it is an accurate measure of voter opinion, the poll's findings will become the accepted wisdom - at least until another one comes along.

Harawira, who, as the candidate for his new Mana Party, is effectively the incumbent, has 41 per cent support with Labour's Kelvin Davis breathing down his neck on 40 per cent.

The Maori Party's Solomon Tipene trails on a paltry 15 per cent. Unless more polls pop up in the next 10 days with vastly different findings, Tipene will be automatically relegated to also-ran. Third place will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Like it or not, the poll transforms the campaign into a two-horse race. Harawira's decision to resign from Parliament and force a byelection in his seat could now put him into contention for political blunder of the year, if not the decade.

After turning the other cheek to his taunts for so long, his former Maori Party colleagues would relish that.

Indeed, the bizarre manner in which Tariana Turia and company have treated the byelection starts to make some sense only in that context.

On the face of it, the Maori Party's handling of the byelection has been a total tactical disaster.

It could have boycotted the contest on the grounds it is a pointless but expensive stunt on Harawira's part.

Had the Maori Party stayed out of the contest, Harawira would have got little succour from what would have been a hollow victory.

He would have been kept guessing about the true strength of his support come the general election in November.

Despite that, the Maori Party decided to run. It is not that it was not warned of the consequences. As was commonly predicted, the 2008 Maori Party vote in the seat has split and Labour has come through the middle.

But maybe that is what the Maori Party wants to happen, and why it put up a candidate who looks likely not only to lose, but to lose badly.

Standing a candidate may have been necessary to stop loyal supporters who dislike Labour defecting to Harawira.

The flip-side of that is whether other Maori Party supporters less vexed with Labour will now shift to Davis. The low support for Tipene suggests that has been happening.

It is a huge gamble. If Harawira loses, the Maori Party would have achieved its No1 priority of stopping his new party in its tracks. In doing so, it would have helped Labour - its other enemy - take a first and significant step towards renewing its long-standing mortgage on the Maori seats. But the Maori Party may view Mana as more of a threat than Labour when it comes to holding its other constituency seats.

What is not in question, however, is that the Maori Party faces humiliation if Harawira hangs on to his seat.

Yesterday, Turia joined the long list of MPs employing the reach of Twitter for political messaging. Her first tweet declared: "Seems like the byelection in North is improving for Maori Party."

Improving? Only if she was referring to Davis really putting the squeeze on Harawira. Otherwise, the outlook is anything but for the Maori Party.