TODAY’S election is an intriguing one in more ways than just a few.
There’s probably been nothing like it since independent MP Tony Windsor went up against the one-term sitting Nationals member Stuart St Clair in 2001.
We might expect the outcome to be what it should be, but it is the devil in the detail that is unknown this time around.
Until he announced a shock retirement on June 26, New England was shaping up as a bonzer of a battle, with former Queensland senator Barnaby Joyce brought in to face off with Windsor in this election.
It would be a fight to the death. The warrior with the intellectual capacity of a true leader and the rat cunning of a fighter against the brash new pretender, the bloke who can strangle a sentence but, just like Mr Windsor has done for his considered and commonsense views, attracted the metropolitan media in the way Bob Katter does and Joh Bjelke-Petersen did.
Already the virulent, the vicious and the vengeful were preparing for the electoral fight. Where we’d seen slanging, threats and verbal assaults, we were ready again for the onslaught as the conservative rump of the federal seat reared for the fight, relishing a job to unseat the turncoat from his saddle.
Mr Windsor didn’t give them that chance.
He retired and Mr Joyce lives to assume the mantle, if, as the polls suggest, he will be the winner sometime after 8pm.
Whether he gets over the line on primaries or has to rely on preferences from a disparate lot that will shower them all over the place rather than dump them on the Nats man is the unknown and the variable in this poll. Who comes second is also a guess.
There has been conjecture that many progressives, not just conservative voters, still hadn’t made up their minds and didn’t know where to put their tick.
Analysts have also questioned if the informal vote, which has mostly stayed about the 3 to 3.5 per cent mark over the years, may be topped this time around.
Mr Joyce has polarised many – and not in the way Mr Windsor did over the past three years and right back at the start of this political career, when he bucked The Nationals preselection and refused to accept the electorate council’s ruling. Mr Joyce has mostly played to the older voters in a tub-thumping old-style hustings tour, where he did 29 or so hall and pub forums from early April for a few weeks.
Today will be a test of his appeal to a wider age range and attitudes.
It’s a long way from where we’ve come and what we’ve come to expect in the New England elections.
Back in the day, when former Nats leader Ian Sinclair was the member, we saw some solid Labour candidates with Lawrie Daly and then Joe Horan.
The likable Labor lawyer Mr Horan went up twice against Sinclair, in 1984 and 1987.
That second time, Mr Horan forced Mr Sinclair to preferences, eroding his majority to a couple of percentage points. Sinkers needed the 7 per cent from Joh For Canberra candidate Bevan O’Regan to get him over the line.
Labor’s vote has never been anywhere near that since and when Mr Windsor came along it collapsed.
Mr Windsor won the first federal poll in 2001, coming off the back of a 1998 result that saw a two-party-preferred split of Nationals with
62.9 per cent and the ALP 36.15 per cent. In a poll with six candidates, Mr Windsor took 45 per cent of the primaries and then on a two-party preferred basis the title with 58.3 per cent; St Clair was left with 41.7 per cent.
In 2004, then-Tamworth solicitor Trevor Khan, now a state upper house politician, took him on. Mr Windsor cut him back, too. But that ballot saw a Liberal candidate in Scot MacDonald.
Mr Windsor took 57.27 per cent, while the two conservatives shared just under 29 per cent.
In 2007, with 91,370 voters enrolled and six candidates, Mr Windsor improved his vote again at the expense of The Nationals candidate Phil Betts.
In 2010 there were again six candidates and for the first time Mr Windsor lost some traction on a two-party-preferred basis. The Nats recovered 2.89 per cent. Labor and The Greens also lost more votes that time around.
Mr Windsor had the 10th-safest seat in the country when he retired, with a 21.5 per cent majority. Plenty of his voters will translate to Mr Joyce returnees, but the question is also how many of them.
Today’s vote will likely turn those figures on their head, but where they all fall is the unknown.
With Mr Windsor gone and a seemingly paralysed Labor movement now, what will happen to the Windsor voters who once were Labor voters?
It’s accepted many Labor votes gravitated to Mr Windsor over those years. Where to go now? Back to the fold, or to another independent in either the Arnie Schwarzenegger convert and corporate motivator Jamie McIntyre, or the Armidale newcomer and Windsor-endorsed Rob Taber?
While it’s not got the heat we once assumed it would have, there are a few variables that make this a bit more interesting than the last few we’ve seen. For different reasons.
WOMEN rule. Well, you could think that when you look at some statistics for this weekend’s election in New England.
There are 102,187 people enrolled to vote in the electorate.
The majority of them are female.
In fact, there are 4200 more of them than men who can cast a vote.
The 2013 election has 53,199 women enrolled here and 48,988 men.
But the biggest, most powerful voting bloc is probably the over-70s.
The aged, oldies group represents nearly 18,000 of those eligible to have a say at the ballot box.