Social worker Ngahau Davis expects a big turnout in Te Tai Tokerau this year. Northland Maori are "hurting" and desperate for a change of government, he says.
"There's a lot at stake. All they've experienced is pain and more pain so for a lot of people it's how do we get this government out so that...we may get a better shot at things."
While issues such as dirty politics and the Internet-Mana marriage are attracting plenty of attention, the biggest issue for voters was "being able to feed your whanau and just having the basics".
The He Iwi Kotahi Tatau Trust trustee believes the contenders - Labour's Kelvin Davis and the incumbent, Mana leader Hone Harawira - are locked in a race too close to call.
That thought is backed up by the Maori Television-Reid Research poll of 500 voters carried out in July and August, which showed Harawira with 38 per cent support, compared with Davis on 37.
Maori Party candidate Te Hira Paenga received 9.4 per cent in the poll which also showed divided opinions over Mana's relationship with the Internet Party. A total of 42.6 per cent said they supported it, with 44.6 opposed and 12.6 per cent unsure.
Ngahau Davis thinks Kelvin Davis' high list ranking - 18 - could swing the race in Harawira's favour, with voters likely to believe Davis will get in on the list and voting for Harawira will give them two representatives, he says.
Harawira has held the seat since 2005, and beaten Davis, a former Northland principal, three times - last time by 1100 votes.
Former Labour MP Dover Samuels believes Mana's relationship with Kim Dotcom's Internet Party has opened the contest up.
"I'd say that has led to a lot of uncertainty in terms of the Mana vote. The Labour vote I think has always been there and it's consolidating but the Mana vote...they're calling it Hone's Heroes' Sergeant Schultz, and they're waiting for Colonel Klink to finish off the comedy."
Voters were also asking what Harawira had done for them in Parliament and what Mana had achieved for the region, he said.
The Maori Party's new candidate, Te Hira Paenga, was not part of the conversation, Samuels said.
Heeni Hoterene, who has helped lead the fight against mining in the Far North, says there's "no doubt" Harawira will win.
"Kelvin just hasn't got it and he's...not seen as a winner and he hasn't got the charisma basically. Northern voters really respond to dynamic people and he's not capturing people in the audience."
The Ngati Hine woman said Te Tai Tokerau voters were suspicious of Dotcom and his motives but trusted Harawira.
But the pressure would be on him to deliver, if he were part of the Government, she said.
"That's going to have to be something that Hone would have to manage because he has previously been a one-man band...we definitely want to see some results, we've been really patient."
Harawira says he won't be burdened by that pressure but remains coy on which way he thinks it will go. "I'm only ever confident that we are working as hard as we can be, I'm never confident about winning."
He says he has focused on knocking on doors, including those in areas no-one else will get to, promoting Mana's messages in the community and sticking to his constituency work.
He backed his support base and suggested Labour was busing in crowds to bolster Davis at public meetings.
He denied Samuels' claim that the deal with the Internet Party had undermined his appeal.
Kelvin Davis, who is campaigning on a shoestring and has described the Internet-Mana relationship as "the biggest con in New Zealand's political history", thinks he is in with a shot.
"This time around I just think that there's a feeling, a need for change...people who hadn't previously said they're behind me are behind me."
He cited tourism and processing of locally produced materials such as logs, rather than exporting raw ones to China, as keys to boosting fortunes in Northland. Labour was against oil exploration unless it was proven completely safe, he said.
CANDIDATES AT A GLANCE
Hone Harawira, Mana Movement: Incumbent with a huge support base in the North. His Mana Movement joined with Kim Dotcom's Internet Party this year and Te Tai Tokerau is their ticket to Parliament. Focused on eliminating poverty and feeding hungry kids.
Kelvin Davis, Labour: Former principal who recently returned to Parliament after the resignation of Shane Jones. Has been focusing his campaign on the major population centres such as West Auckland. Priorities are education, economy, te reo and eliminating sexual violence.
Te Hira Paenga, Maori Party: Pita Sharples' stepson is on leave from his role as assistant principal at Hato Petera College and is described by party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell as a "kapa haka superstar". Assistant curate at the Auckland Anglican Maori Mission.
Clinton Dearlove, Independent
- The Dominion Post
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