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Election complacency worries National leadership

TRACY WATKINS
Last updated 09:07 29/06/2014
John Key
KEVIN STENT/Fairfax NZ
ALL YE FAITHFUL: Prime Minister John Key and MP Paula Bennett kick off the National party's conference.

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They are supremely confident. Perky as all get out. And they are quietly convinced that a third term is theirs. Meet #teamkey, who have turned out in their hundreds for National's annual conference in Wellington.

But listen to Prime Minister John Key and the likes of campaign strategist Steven Joyce, and you would think defeat was staring them in their face.

As the party faithful gathered to plot the election campaign, National's strategists were intent on scaring them into believing they could be turfed out of power on September 20 because too many New Zealanders think it is a done deal.

Key warns delegates against complacency after a slew of polls putting National in pole position.

Labour leader David Cunliffe has talked up his party's chances of reaching out to the "missing million" who didn't vote in 2011, but Key says many of those voters were National's, and not Cunliffe's to take.

And apathy wasn't the reason for them staying home, so much as complacency.

"Across the country in 2011, 10 of the 12 electorates with the biggest turnout drop were actually safe National seats...the voter turnout fell between 6 and 9.3 percentage points compared to the 2008 turnout," Key says.

In other words, many National voters thought it was a foregone conclusion and didn't bother to vote - or, as Joyce puts it, they went to the beach instead.

"We fixed the beach part this time [by] having the election in September," he said.

Key's speech to the party faithful today is an attempt to give some of those voters an extra reason to vote - the speech will be a pitch to regional New Zealand, and will introduce policy focused on those areas.

As for the other nightmare scenario keeping Joyce and Key awake at night? At this stage in the electoral cycle in 2011, National was two points ahead of where it sits now in the polls.

Joyce does not need to remind delegates that something called the "teapot tapes" happened next and gave NZ First a leg-up into Parliament.

He does not need to remind them either that at 47.3 per cent support on election night 2011, National got the highest vote ever under MMP - and the highest vote achieved by any single party since the 1951 waterfront strike. And it still needed support from ACT and United Future to govern.

Key's warning to delegates is simple.

"This isn't a head-to-head race. This is MMP and it's a race to 61 seats. There's no constitutional reason why the parties to the left of us can't all hold hands, and if they can get to 61 seats, then they will be the government on September 21. That is the reality."

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