The prime minister has his eye on Palmerston North and his finger pointed at the city's MP ahead of this year's election.
John Key has thrown down the gauntlet to Palmerston North MP Iain Lees-Galloway as National prepares to make a strong push for votes in the historic Labour stronghold.
During a stopover in Feilding, on his way to the annual political power meet in Ratana yesterday, Mr Key questioned Mr Lees-Galloway's aptitude, saying he walked into a seat made safe by former Palmerston North MPs such as Steve Maharey.
"He's largely been a beneficiary of the fact that it's been a Labour stronghold rather than [him being] an outstanding performer in Parliament," Mr Key said.
National is preparing to fight hard in the electorate with plans to boost the party vote by running a strong campaign fronted by a strong candidate, Mr Key said.
The prime minister says National list MP Joanne Hayes will provide a tough test for Mr Lees-Galloway.
"She is extremely strong, comes from a position in Parliament, with parliamentary experience and she's very passionate about the area - I think she'll be a great representative for Palmerston North," Mr Key said.
"We have in the last couple of elections run a good campaign with very dedicated candidates.
"The reality is we've had - with the likes of Malcolm Plimmer - very strong people that have been totally dedicated, and that just shows you how hard it is to win. It's not saying we can't win, but it is challenging.
"It [comes down to] the amount of time they put into their campaign, the amount of resources they apply to it and the quality of the person."
Mr Lees-Galloway said the prime minister's opinion of his progression and performance in Parliament didn't faze him.
"I'm not in the business of trying to please John Key, we have very little in common . . . I think National should be focusing on defending the seats they're likely to lose.
"I feel very confident at Labour's chances to not only retain Palmerston North but to increase our party vote and to pick up some electorates around the Manawatu-Whanganui region area as well."
He listed Napier, Otaki, Whanganui and Te Tai Hauauru as electorates of likely switches during the election.
"As a diligent electorate MP you've got to keep working for your people otherwise they won't return to you," Mr Lees-Galloway said.
"I'm interested in ensuring we return a Labour government that can undo some of the damage National has incurred upon our country, on our region and on our city in the last five years."
The 2011 National candidate, Leonie Hapeta, who is now a Palmerston North City councillor, said the difficulty facing challenging candidates was around political apathy and breaking the city's long-held traditional links to Labour.
"It's such a tough seat that has been red for such a long time that people just tend to vote for how they've voted in the past," she said.
"One day it will happen, I'm just not sure when it will and it's really hard to crystal-ball gaze.
"It's a traditional Labour seat and it'll be hard to break that mould."
- Manawatu Standard
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