Ron Mark's late entry into the race for Wairarapa could represent one of NZ First's best chances of getting back into Parliament.
Wairarapa has been a safe National seat in recent years, but with sitting MP John Hayes retiring, the Carterton mayor's entry could blow the race open, his Labour opponent believes.
NZ First needs to poll more than 5 per cent of the party vote, or win an electorate seat, if it is to get back into Parliament. The latest Stuff/Ipsos poll has the party on 3.4 per cent.
That means Mark, a NZ First list MP from 1996 to 2008, shapes as one of the party's better bets, says Massey University politics programme associate professor Richard Shaw.
"He would be one of their better chances . . . he was born [in Wairarapa], he's a military man - he ticks those conservative boxes, he promotes himself as an honest broker."
Shaw said Mark's name recognition from the mayoralty, as well as his parliamentary experience, would help.
Labour candidate Kieran McAnulty, a bookmaker standing only for the candidate vote to emphasise his local focus, said Hayes' retirement and Mark's entry had left a wide-open race. "Mr Mark will take candidate votes off National, which will blow this race open."
However, he did not believe Mark would win the seat, in which Hayes had a majority of more than 7000 in 2011. "If [NZ First] believed Mark was going to save them, they would have selected him 12 or 18 months ago."
Shaw said being a well-liked mayor was different to being seen as a potential MP, especially given NZ First's relatively poor showings in the past in Wairarapa, where it did not stand a candidate in 2011.
He predicted no "seismic shift": "NZ First has no tail-wind, [leader Winston] Peters hasn't flicked that switch . . . [Mark] may take some votes, but it would be a surprise if he got close to winning that electorate."
He thought support for National was entrenched in Wairarapa, indicated by 87 per cent of those who voted for Hayes in 2011 also giving National their party vote.
National candidate Alastair Scott, a wealthy winemaker, said Mark standing would not affect the result.
PAINT IT BLUE The Wairarapa electorate runs from Ngawi on the south coast to Waipawa in central Hawke's Bay. Party votes in 2011 election (35,315 votes counted):
NZ First: 2738
Maori Party: 218
Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis: 200
Democrats for Social Credit: 14
- The Dominion Post
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