City seat too close to call

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    National candidate Penny Simmonds at Queens Park after a ‘nerve-wracking' election on Saturday night. Photo: Luisa Girao
    Labour candidate Liz Craig with her husband Philip Melgren on Sunday. Photo: Luisa Girao

    FOR the first time in a long while, a southern electorate race is too close to call.

    The dominance of Labour throughout the country on election night last Saturday included Invercargill, where it snatched the party vote from National and could still claim the electorate seat.

    Incumbent list MP Liz Craig trails National Party candidate and former Southern Institute of Technology chief executive Penny Simmonds by 685 votes.

    While she has her nose in front, Ms Simmonds said the race was too close to call until special votes were counted.

    “I’m not going to count my chickens until they’ve hatched,” she said on Sunday.

    She declined to say what her priorities as Invercargill’s MP would be until the final result was known.

    Ms Simmonds has 16,372 votes to Dr Craig’s 15,687.

    Her majority is significantly lower than retiring MP Sarah Dowie’s in 2017, when she beat Dr Craig by 5579 votes.

    Labour won the party vote with 47.5% in the electorate against National’s 30.3%.

    In 2017, National won with 48.39%, compared with Labour’s 35.82%. It was a tough night, Ms Simmonds said.

    While she waited for the special vote results, Simmonds travelled to Wellington for a caucus meeting this week.

    “It’s tough for the whole of the National caucus, and really it’s a time for us to be rebuilding, and that’s what we’re going to have to concentrate on.”

    Meanwhile, at No 43 on Labour’s list, Dr Craig is likely to return to Parliament regardless of the electorate result.

    She was taking a wait-and-see approach to the electorate seat and also travelled to Wellington earlier in the week.

    “… Just to have a catch-up with caucus colleagues, because with my placing on the list it looks like I’ll be returning on the list.”

    ‘‘But we’re all just waiting for the two weeks for the final result.’’

    The sheer size of the swing towards Labour had come as a bit of a surprise, but it gave Labour a clear path forward, Dr Craig said.

    ‘‘I think it was a really positive campaign actually. I think right from the start, going out and about, people were really appreciative of the health response to Covid, but also the economic response and plan moving forward.’’

    Looking ahead to the next few months, she felt the signalled closure of New Zealand’s aluminium smelter at Tiwai Point was going to continue to be a major issue in the
    electorate.

    ‘‘Jacinda was quite clear, pre-election, that if it was a Labour-led government they would be wanting to negotiate for a three to five year extension… That was signalled quite clearly in advance to voters.’’

    Electorate vote results
    1. Penny Simmonds, National, 16,372. Majority 685
    2. Liz Craig, Labour, 15,687
    3. Rochelle Francis, Green Party, 900
    4. Joshua Honiss, New Conservative, 670

    Party vote

    1. Labour 17,050
    2. National 10,873
    3. Act New Zealand 3470
    4. Green Party 1136

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