OPINION: In today's Manawatu Standard, Jono Naylor and Iain Lees-Galloway make their cases for why Palmerston North voters should support them at this year's general election.
The selection of Naylor, the city's mayor, as the National Party candidate for the seat seems certain to make the race much more competitive than if someone lacking his profile had been chosen to fly the blue flag. As this newspaper has previously argued, popularity as a local body politician doesn't necessarily translate to votes in a general election, but the name recognition Naylor enjoys in the city is a huge advantage for him. National has a serious shot at turning Palmerston North blue for the first time in a generation, and the party will be excited by its prospects.
Lees-Galloway should still be considered the favourite at this early stage of the race, however. His local party operation is well organised, he's been campaigning since late last year and, on any objective analysis, he has been an excellent, hard working local MP since first elected in 2008.
Naylor is undoubtedly a serious threat, but the biggest influence in determining the outcome of the race might be outside the control of either man. The fortunes of the Labour Party nationally could be Lees-Galloway's biggest obstacle, and National's strength Naylor's biggest help.
This week's Stuff.co.nz/Ipsos political poll had Labour's support plummeting to a catastrophic 23 per cent, with National riding high on 56 per cent. If Labour does that poorly on election day, Lees-Galloway could be in serious trouble.
While he won Palmerston North with a 3300 vote majority in 2011, National won the party vote in the city by a similar margin. That means a considerable number of voters giving their party vote to National preferred Lees-Galloway as their local MP over the National candidate Leonie Hapeta, who was a relative unknown with little political experience.
This year, people giving their party vote to National will also have a high profile National candidate on the ballot who many of them would have voted for before at local body elections. The likelihood of them giving two ticks to National is sure to be significantly higher.
If National outperforms Labour on the party vote in Palmerston North by an even greater margin than in 2011, Lees-Galloway could be washed away by a rising blue tide across the country.
He will be anxiously hoping that Labour can turn its flagging popularity around in the three months to polling day, or he knows he'll be lucky just to be an Opposition MP, never mind a government minister.
ONE MORE THING: I've been incredibly humbled by the good wishes since announcing I'll be stepping down as editor. Thanks to everyone for their kind words.
- Manawatu Standard
Does more need to be done to protect NZ passports?