Te Pāti Māori's first general seat candidate has come out on top in an unscientific audience poll at a business chamber election event in a district held by National since 2008.
Rotorua candidate Merepeka Raukawa-Tait says she believes an appetite for change, her knowledge of local issues and an ability to not mince her words set her apart.
But two of her rivals say some candidates had more supporters in the crowd than others and the informal poll results have no significance.
They spoke to Local Democracy Reporting following last week's Rotorua Business Chamber Meet Your Candidates event - the first time all six candidates stood on stage together addressing potential voters.
After hearing from the candidates, audience members were asked to indicate who they would vote for, and 46 percent of the 138 votes said they would pick Raukawa-Tait to be their next MP.
Incumbent MP and National Party candidate Todd McClay received 23 percent, and Labour Party candidate Ben Sandford 19 percent, with the rest divided between three other candidates.
Event host and chamber chief executive Bryce Heard said the survey was "a bit of fun really" and "not to be taken too seriously".
He said the feedback he received was that McClay had won the policy debate, but Raukawa-Tait won in her presentation style.
"She spoke brilliantly."
Raukawa-Tait said the poll result reflected what people were saying to her during her campaign - that they would vote for her as MP but this was their first opportunity to.
She said people knew who she was, that she understood the city's issues and her reputation for "going hard" on some of those without mincing her words.
Put to her that people know McClay and Sandford too, she said she believed the point of difference was that she would not be standing at her age and with her experience if she did not believe things "absolutely have got to change".
"Rotorua, whether we acknowledge it or not, we are in dire straits.
"You need someone who can be fearless in raising the issues and insisting that things get better."
Todd McClay - the electorate's MP since winning it from Labour in 2008 - said he enjoyed the debate but believed the audience "did seem stacked" by other political parties.
"The reception that National is receiving in the electorate from Te Puke to Rotorua and in the rural areas is extremely positive."
Locals were concerned by the cost of rents and interest rates, crime and the escalating cost of living, he said, and National's policies in those areas were "popular", he said.
He said a Labour-Green-Te Pāti Māori government "would be extremely bad for our city".
"Rotorua needs a stable National-led government, and I will continue to work hard for our community."
Labour's Sandford said he did not believe the informal poll results were of any significance "whatsoever".
"Each candidate invited their own supporters along to varying levels. The only poll results that matter are those on election night, and we won't know those until October 14."
He did not believe the results signified anything apart from Raukawa-Tait being a good speaker.
"We often look for clues as to what the future holds in places that don't correlate.
He had no expectations about the results before the event: "Just look at how off-the-mark the results from the chamber mayoral debate were last year."
In that event's straw poll, the chamber reported the top three were Tania Tapsell, Fletcher Tabuteau and Raj Kumar. On election night, Tapsell won, with Sandford second and Tabuteau third.
How the audience would vote (138 votes)
- Merepeka Raukawa-Tait - Te Pāti Māori - 46 percent
- Todd McClay - National Party - 23 percent
- Ben Sandford - Labour Party - 19 percent
- Marten Rozeboom - Act - 6 percent
- Jonn Naera - Independent - 3 percent
- Kariana Black-Vercoe - NewZeal - 3 percent
Local Democracy Reporting is Public Interest Journalism funded through NZ On Air