Prime Minister John Key has thrown the cat among the pigeons in Te Tai Tokerau by suggesting Labour's candidate, Kelvin Davis, will win.
His comments are seen as an effective endorsement of the Labour candidate over National Party ally the Maori Party, and a tacit signal to Maori Party supporters to vote strategically to keep Hone Harawira out.
Asked on Radio Live yesterday whether he would vote for Mr Harawira or Mr Davis, Mr Key said: "I think there's a pretty good chance Kelvin is going to win it."
Broadcaster Willie Jackson, who hosted the show with fellow former MP John Tamihere, said Mr Key was strategic and had not made the announcement accidentally.
"That sort of makes it pretty clear what sort of threat Hone is, eh? .. . It's in [John Key's] interest to kill him, just like it's in the Labour Party's interest and it's in the Maori Party's interest."
Mr Jackson said he was not surprised by the sentiment but thought Mr Key might have skirted the comment.
"But he's coming in behind Kelvin. Why? Because absolutely it suits his interest."
If Mr Harawira wins the seat and brings a few list MPs back at the general election in November, it would threaten the Maori Party and give more options to Maori.
It was sad the Maori Party was not looking past its personal vendetta and thinking strategically, he said.
If so it would pull out of the race, back Mr Harawira and ensure Labour did not take the seat.
"If [Hone] loses it will be amazing and people in the north shouldn't talk about tino rangatiratanga again obviously, because they should just put on their Labour Party hats and just shut up basically, because they just become little pawns in the Labour Party."
A recent poll by Maori Television show Native Affairs put Mr Harawira and Mr Davis neck-and-neck with 41 and 40 per cent of the vote. Maori Party candidate Solomon Tipene was a distant third on 15.
Yesterday the Maori Party released its own polling information, showing 32 per cent of the people it questioned had said they would vote for Mr Solomon.
"We are delighted and not surprised at these results ... the by-election campaign has become a three-horse race," Maori Party co-vice-president Ken Mair said.
However, Labour Party polling is more in line with the Native Affairs poll.
"There's only one poll that counts and that's the one on the 25th of June, so we're just going hard out to get our people out to vote," Mr Davis said.
Mr Harawira has said his polling put him ahead of both Labour and the Maori Party.
"A landline poll is never going to be reflective of Tai Tokerau. Poor people can't afford to just have a phone sitting around and paying rental for it, young people in particular."
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