OPINION: When it comes to popularity, gaining the reputation of a "swing seat" is the political equivalent of being named captain of the school rugby team.
Palmerston North found itself the centre of attention yesterday as both Prime Minister John Key and Opposition leader David Cunliffe came to town, as did NZ First leader Winston Peters and Greens co-leader Russel Norman.
Though they were in Manawatu to show face and find favour at the Federated Farmers National Conference, Key and Cunliffe would have been aware of how tight the local race between Labour incumbent Iain Lees-Galloway and National challenger Jono Naylor could get.
Though Cunliffe dismissed National's chances as a "vain hope", his repeated digs at the "wishy-washy" Naylor were enough to suggest he knows Labour has a real fight on its hands. The Palmerston North seat may have been red since 1978, but the party's poor polling indicates a new coat of paint may be in the offing.
Lees-Galloway has shown before he doesn't need majority party vote support to win the electorate, but Labour's six-point drop to 23 per cent support in the most recent Fairfax Ipsos poll would have been cause for concern, and a burst of confidence for Naylor.
Key yesterday confirmed Palmerston North was one of four key electorates National would try to swing blue, and that he and other senior ministers would be returning to the city before the election - no doubt adding every ounce of "#Team Key" spirit they can to the local cause.
It is becoming clear what Naylor lacks in big league political experience he makes up for in "brand" support, whereas Lees-Galloway may be better off leaving his leader at home unless Labour can start pulling more ace policies from its sleeve than letting skeletons fall from its closet.
Cunliffe described Lees-Galloway as "the best MP in the North Island" - despite him having not yet gained a seat in Labour's shadow Cabinet - and said "nobody in their right mind would swap him for a guy who can't take a position on anything".
It is the sort of smooth swagger the public has come to expect from the Labour leader but there's little to suggest many appreciate it.
He does make a point in that Naylor as a candidate has yet to distinguish his voice from the party rhetoric, but unless Labour can build some momentum, he may not need to.
ONE MORE THING
The decision to move the Palmerston North Christmas Parade from Saturday to Sunday will no doubt benefit some and frustrate others. If it allows for more children to participate and line the streets - the reason for the event in the first place - then the loss of the postponement day is worth the risk.
- Manawatu Standard
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