OPINION: Where would Shane Jones be now, if he hadn't charged up to 50 blue movies to his ministerial credit card?
Harvard educated, with sharp political instincts, Maori credentials and ministerial experience the ''man from Mangonui'' was touted as a potential Labour party leader.
Then the grubby porn scandal broke in 2010, and Jones' mana was muddied.
He handled the fallout with a graceful, droll apology, and for months took the accompanying ridicule on the chin.
Contesting the Tamaki-Makaurau electorate in 2011 and taking on Parliament's kaumata Pita Sharples was heralded as his second chance. In the end, he put up a half-hearted fight, but still came within a few hundred votes of the Maori party co-leader.
Jones' career took a second blow: the trial of Chinese businessman Bill Liu on passport fraud. Leader David Shearer stood the list MP down and asked the Auditor-General to investigate.
He was eventually exonerated and re-instated. Shortly after came the death of Ikaroa-Rāwhiti MP Parekura Horomia - and Shearer's own resignation. In the space of five months, Jones' became the party's ‘Chief' and inserted himself into the leadership race.
He began the campaign as a wildcard. But made such a good fist of the contest, pundits are seriously considering if he is what the party needs to win back the centre voters.
This contest is truly the redemption of Shane Jones.
A surprise TV3 poll on Friday night placed him above deputy Grant Robertson, with David Cunliffe out in front. That survey is more a reflection of the intense media coverage Jones has received of late, and in reality he is unlikely to usurp the other two.
Robertson supporters say that rather than courting journalists, their man is doing hard yards behind the scenes to bolster support among members. He already has the bulk of caucus support - who are also working hard to exert their influence over members.
Over the final days Robertson plans to step up efforts to persuade members he is the best candidate to unite the deeply divided caucus.
Where Shearer, finance spokesman David Parker and former EPMU boss Andrew Little decide to place their votes is crucial. Little obviously has huge sway with the unions but is keeping his choice close to his chest. He spent Friday in New Plymouth with Robertson, who is quietly confident of his support.
Shearer has been incommunicado for the past three weeks but insiders say he is likely to vote for Jones - and give his second preference to Robertson. While Parker is being courted by Cunliffe and Robertson, he remains inscrutable.
As the roadshow moves south, Robertson's confidence will be boosted by an active membership in Wellington (his electorate) and Dunedin (his home town).
This might not be enough to counter the huge party and union support, that Cunliffe acolytes are convinced the New Lynn MP has secured.
Which brings us back to Jones - and where he directs his second preference votes once eliminated. His bombastic performances have certainly made him indispensable to both men - pre and post victory.
- © Fairfax NZ News