POLITICS and soap operas have a lot in common. They both go on forever, they have recurring characters, new characters, some characters get killed off and come back, they're both not for everyone - the comparisons go on.
But if you tune out for a couple of episodes, it's easy to feel lost.
This latest soap opera/political story line - the 2019 NSW state election - is about to finish.
The NSW Electoral Commission estimates more than 16,000 people have already cast their vote in Tamworth during pre-polling, meaning about one-third of the electorate has already made its decision.
But the remaining 40,000 people still have an important decision to make.
Health services, water security and the drought are among the big issues this year, as incumbent Nationals MP Kevin Anderson (a recurring character) seeks to be re-elected for his third term - but first he will have to fend off challenges from two strong candidates (new characters).
Tamworth councillor Mark Rodda, who is standing as an independent candidate, is the physical embodiment of the disillusioned National Party voter - he was a Nationals member for almost three decades, and volunteered for countless campaigns for various candidates at all levels of government.
However, he left the Nationals in 2014, citing the party's decision to support the privatisation of the state's poles and wires.
He wrote to every elected Nationals politician in the NSW government "imploring them not to proceed with it, due to the impact on prices and jobs in regional areas".
The few responses he got - most ignored him - filled him with great sense of frustration and disappointment.
"If they were treating a member of the party like that, I could only imagine how they were treating their electors," he said.
"We were told privatisation wouldn't lead to higher energy prices or job losses and that $6 billion from the sale would go to regional NSW. However, none of that turned out to be true, just as I predicted."
Tired of seeing the community take a back seat to the vested interests that donated to party politics, Cr Rodda has promised to be a true independent, bring the people back in to politics.
Despite receiving the most votes of any Tamworth councillor at the last local government election, Cr Rodda is embracing the battler tag.
"I'm not conceding, but I'm definitely the underdog," he said.
"If the pre-polling is any indication of the election, I think it's going to be an interesting result."
The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers have been going after National Party strongholds for the past couple of years, and the Tamworth electorate is no different.
Candidate Jeff Bacon signalled his intentions early, announcing he would be running for the seat in July 2018, nine months before the election, and he's been running an attack-dog campaign every since.
The region's health services formed the linchpin of Mr Bacon's platform. He called for mandatory nurse-to-patient ratios in all regional hospitals and Multi-Purpose Services (MPS) after nurses from the Manilla MPS rallied in the street.
In Gunnedah, Mr Bacon was vocal about the need for a new and improved hospital, while starting a petition calling for a large-scale drug and alcohol rehabilitation facility, which gained more than 2000 signatures in a couple of months.
He made the upgrade of Werris Creek Road another key part of his platform, and circulated a petition that was supported by more than 2500 people, and he's also lobbied for the sealing of Rangari Road.
Mr Anderson may have felt the heat from Cr Rodda and Mr Bacon, with a number of big election promises, which nullified some of his opponents' key talking points.
He splashed big on road funding, with $10 million to upgrade Werris Creek Road, $3 million to upgrade Goonoo Goonoo Road and an estimated $9 million to seal Rangari Road.
His largest election promise is a $53 million rebuild of Gunnedah hospital, welcome news to the surrounding community, who have been calling for a better facility for years.
Mr Bacon is happy to claim Mr Anderson's election commitments as a win, and says without him, the Nationals would have never forked out the cash.
"People just need to look at my campaign, which has resulted in $72 million worth of commitments from the current MP," Mr Bacon said.
"Everywhere we raised an issue, the MP was quick with a funding announcement and that's just God's honest truth."
It remains unclear how Mr Anderson would deliver on his election promises if voted in to opposition.
Interestingly, Mr Anderson's made no big ticket election promises for Tamworth - a possible sign that he's comfortable to stand on what he's delivered for the city over his last term.
His most recent coup was securing $26.6 million for the University of New England's proposed campus in the Tamworth CBD.
"This is the single biggest investment in Tamworth since the new hospital," Mr Anderson said at the time.
However, there was controversy surrounding the funding, with everyone from Tamworth mayor Col Murray to New England MP Barnaby Joyce expecting the state government to fork out $43 million, nearly double the amount delivered.
"This is what happens when you have a safe seat," a furious Cr Rodda said, when he learnt of the funding backdown.
"This shows that they think they've confidently won Tamworth, and they don't need to entice the electorate with any more funding."
He and Mr Anderson exchanged verbal blows in front of hundreds of people at a candidate forum over the alleged $43 million promise.
"As [Tamworth] councillors, we were advised that we were promised $43 million from the state, and we were advised to keep quiet about it," Cr Rodda said at the forum.
Mr Anderson interrupted a number of times, shouting "show me the promise" and "prove it", before explaining the $43 million "was never promised, it was an application for funding", when he got the microphone back.
That incident aside, the election campaigning has for the most part been very civil - a few barbs were thrown around online, particularly between the SFF and the Nationals around gun policy, but such things are almost expected in modern campaigns.
Along with the recent cash splash, Mr Anderson also has the benefit of a 10 per cent majority, a very comfortable buffer that other Nationals MPs would take in a heartbeat.
If the Tamworth electorates goes to preferences, Mr Anderson may even have to worry about Labor, who have preferenced both Cr Rodda and Mr Bacon ahead of the Nationals.
While Labor has historically struggled to get a foothold in Tamworth - it's one of only three seats in NSW the party has never held - candidate Stephen Mears said this year, voters were more open to the party's message, after growing disillusioned with the Coalition after eight years of regional neglect.
"I've had dozens of invites for scones and biscuits," Mr Mears said, with a smile.
"I think they're sick of hearing the same old promises and seeing nothing happen."
A poll by The Leader revealed health is the number one priority of local voters, a topic Mr Mears said was Labor's bread and butter.
The party has promised mandated nurse-to-patient ratios for all regional hospital. Mr Mears has also taken up the fight of the Manilla MPS nurses.
"Labor said it would guarantee it would review the minimum staffing [at Manilla MPS]," he said.
"However, Manilla MPS, which is where it all started, is going to get an extra 50 per cent increase in staffing levels until we work out the necessary mandatory ratio."
The Greens are being represented through retired scientist Robin Gunning. As an entomologist (study of insects), she was a principal research scientist with the NSW Department of Primary Industries, with a focus on crop pests.
The reason Ms Gunning is running, in her own words, "is to tackle climate, before it is too late". She said it was clear two of the electorate's biggest problems - the ongoing drought and lack of water security - were directly link to climate change.
"I am here to deal with the big issues that are threatening our future - the most pressing thing in this electorate is the issue of climate change," she said.
"Summers are becoming dangerously hot and droughts are the norm. The climate is only going to get worse unless we do something."
The steps to tackling climate change would have many positive spin off benefits, she said, such as transitioning to renewable energy, which would create jobs and over time reduce energy bills.
"We could be a renewable energy powerhouse, here in Tamworth," Ms Gunning said.
Local mum and community volunteer Emma Hall is standing for the Animal Justice Party. It goes without saying, Ms Hall is a passionate animal advocate, however she's been unable to hit the campaign trial or attend candidate forums due to health issues.
Ms Hall has been involved with the party for about a year, and realised it aligned with her views so well, she founded the local branch.
"I think it's important for animals to have a voice," Ms Hall said.
"I'm not running for me, I'm doing this for the animals."
While extreme animal-rights activists have called for a ban on many animal-based industries, Ms Hall said she was "realistic".
"We can't ban everything, that's not going to happen," she said.
"However, there are things we can do to make the conditions as good as can be."