Panelists predict tight race for Hamilton city seats
Five weeks out from election day and the race to form the next Government is heating up with political parties jostling for the public's vote.
To help readers cut through the political rhetoric and chatter, the Waikato Times has formed a panel of commentators to provide expert analysis during the campaign race.
They may not always agree with each other, but our panelists' political nous and experience should help shine a light on the often confusing world of campaign politics and promises.
Our first panel session began by asking if National's hold on Waikato's rural-based seats would continue after September 20.
Former Prime Minister Jim Bolger, not known for his fondness of political polls, said all indications were National would retain the seats.
He predicted a similar strong showing in Hamilton, tipping National to keep the city's two electorates.
"I think they've got two able Members of Parliament [David Bennett and Tim Macindoe] currently representing Hamilton East and West and I anticipate both their party allegiance and their own personal commitment to those electorates will see them reasonably comfortably home on the 20th of September," Bolger said.
Former Hamilton Mayor Russ Rimmington also expected Waikato's rural seats to be cast in blue come polling day.
However, Rimmington, like many of the Times panelists, expected a much tighter tussle for Hamilton East and West.
Tertiary education was a major driver of the region's economy and Rimmington believed Labour could make serious political headway with innovative education policies.
"The farming sector will always support National but in the city I can see a big swing happening," the former ad-man said.
"In the past two weeks you can sense a real change out there among voters. The key for Labour is not to get caught up with giving away too many lollies. It's always easy to give away other people's money and they'll need to guard against that."
Hamilton city councillor Martin Gallagher holds the distinction of being Hamilton West's longest-serving MP.
Gallagher lost the seat in 2008 to National's Tim Macindoe who is vying for his third term as Hamilton West MP.
Regarded as a bellwether seat, the party that wins Hamilton West typically goes on to win the election.
Gallagher said Labour's high-profile campaign offices in Hamilton East and West indicated the party was "deadly serious" about the contest.
Gallagher predicted the election issues most relevant to Hamilton voters would mirror mainstream national issues.
"One of the key issues of the campaign is around realising the kiwi dream, people wanting to own their own home, get a good job, get ahead, have good educational opportunities for their kids and good health care."
Waikato University student Kate Lunn, voting in her first election, was interested to learn about the different parties' policies and attend meet-the-candidate events.
Lunn said she was keen to learn about parties' views on student loans, the living wage debate, and the minimum wage rate. Although National MP David Bennett had a strong presence in Hamilton East, Lunn said the Green Party had a solid following on the Waikato University campus.
"Being a first-time voter this is the first election I've taken a strong interest in and I'm really keen to learn about all the parties and their polices."
Lois Livingston shared the view National would maintain its grip on Waikato's rural-based seats but anticipated a strong contest between National and Labour in Hamilton West. Although Macindoe had done a good job representing the electorate, Livingston said Labour Hamilton West candidate Sue Moroney's high party ranking meant she could become a cabinet minister if Labour won office.
"To have a cabinet minister in your city is always a good thing so that's a big appeal," Livingston said.
"As far as Hamilton East goes I think it will be very hard for Labour to take that seat particularly with the inclusion of the northern suburbs which seem to be strong National voters."
Tukoroirangi Morgan predicted this year's battle for Hauraki-Waikato would be one to watch.
Morgan held the Te Tai Hauauru seat when New Zealand First swept all five Maori electorates in 1996 but was ousted by Labour's Nanaia Mahuta in 1999. She won the Tainui seat in 2002 when boundaries were redrawn and two seats added and maintained her vice-like grip on the electorate after it was renamed Hauraki Waikato.
Morgan said Mahuta remained the favourite.
"It is always going to be very difficult to beat the incumbent," he said.
"I remember when she displaced me all those years ago - her tentacles go deep into the king movement, she is a member of the kahui ariki, she is highly intelligent."
Maori Party candidate Susan Cullen also had strong links to the Kingitanga.
"For the first-time in the past four terms . . . this seat is going to be genuinely, hotly contested. It's going to be a two-horse race and there is nothing between them actually."
Morgan said the key issues in the electorate were ongoing educational under-achievement, unemployment, domestic violence and the breakdown of the fabric of the family.
"While it's clear that Maori successes in secondary school is on the rise, the gap between them and their Pakeha counterparts is widening."