Poll date set but no city Nat yet

MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 12:00 11/03/2014

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The election will be held on September 20 and the National Party is months away from selecting a candidate for Palmerston North.

"I'm announcing the election date well in advance as I believe this gives New Zealanders some certainty and is in the country's best interests," Prime Minister John Key said yesterday. What is uncertain is who will be contesting that election for National in Palmerston North.

The party's branch chairman for the city, Rob Woodhouse, said a decision would be made in May. Nominations were yet to open.

Palmerston North was a "winnable seat" for National and organisation of this year's campaign was under way. "It's been a Labour seat probably forever . . . but it's still winnable," Mr Woodhouse said.

National last won Palmerston North in 1975, with John Lithgow holding the seat for three years.

Mr Woodhouse said National won the party vote in Palmerston North last election - 44.1 per cent to Labour's 33.9 per cent - and was hoping to do better this time.

In 2008 the parties were virtually tied in the city in the party vote.

In the 2011 election Labour's Iain Lees-Galloway extended his 2008 majority of 1117 to 3285. National's 2011 candidate, Leonie Hapeta, is now a city councillor and has said she would not be standing in this year's general election. Speaking to the Manawatu Standard yesterday, Mr Lees-Galloway declined to call Palmerston North a safe Labour seat.

"We're going to have to work for the electorate as hard as we've ever worked for it," he said.

Other than a break over the Christmas/New Year period, Mr Lees-Galloway said he and his team of volunteers had been out door-knocking since the asset sales referendum in November.

"We're in full swing," he said. Interest in volunteering for Labour in this election was up on recent years, Mr Lees-Galloway said. The two-term MP also said he had met a number of people who had not voted in recent elections but said they would in 2014.

The election would be close, he said. He thought Otaki and Te Tai Hauauru were winnable for Labour.

White Ribbon campaign manager Rob McCann is contesting Otaki against National Cabinet minister Nathan Guy. With the retirement of Tariana Turia, the Te Tai Hauauru electorate is up for grabs, with Chris McKenzie standing for the Maori Party and Adrian Rurawhe for Labour.

Former Manawatu district mayor Ian McKelvie (National) faces a challenge from taxation lecturer Deborah Russell (Labour) in Rangitikei.

The minor parties are yet to select candidates for the seats in the wider Manawatu except for the Greens, who have so far selected Sam Ferguson in Otaki and Jack McDonald in Te Tai Hauauru.

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- Manawatu Standard

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