National yet to decide on Epsom strategy

The National Party is yet to decide whether it will push to win the key Epsom seat at the election, a possible candidate says.

A strong National bid for the seat would see it pitted against its ACT Party support partner, which has needed the Auckland seat to get into Parliament since 2005.

The electorate may again be ACT's path into Parliament this year, if it remains unable to meet the 5 percent party vote threshold.

ACT over the weekend confirmed former National MP and Auckland mayor John Banks would contest the seat. Mr Banks said he was "quietly confident" he could win.

Auckland businessman and former councillor Aaron Bhatnagar this morning confirmed he would seek selection as National's Epsom candidate, saying he could win back the seat.

However, he said it was up to Prime Minister John Key whether National would push to win the seat, rather than just campaign for the party vote.

"It's a strategic seat for National, we get a fantastic party vote for the National Party locally and we'll absolutely be focusing on the party vote to ensure that we replicate or better that result," he told Radio New Zealand.

"But of course it is a strategic seat and National has not yet ticked off on the final strategy. It may be two ticks (the party and electorate vote) that we go for, but that's a decision for John Key and no one else."

Mr Key earlier signalled National would not make a serious bid to win the seat, saying it would not campaign to knock support partners ACT out of Parliament.

Mr Bhatnagar said the electorate had gone through "a rather confusing and difficult period" and a fresh pair of eyes was needed.

"It'd be fantastic to have someone in Epsom who is working inside the John Key Government to deliver for the people of Epsom."

He has been involved with National since 2002 and said he knew Epsom "extremely well".

Mr Bhatnagar, who was formerly Mr Banks' mayoral campaign manager, said he had not been in any discussions with Mr Banks about contesting the seat.

Mr Banks, himself a National member until this month and a former Cabinet minister, said he felt "completely relaxed" about Mr Bhatnagar seeking the nomination.

"He's a first-class New Zealander and I look forward to a battle of ideas, a battle of experience, achievement, because the people of Epsom deserve this," he told Radio New Zealand.

Mr Banks said a vote for himself would help reinforce the National government by increasing ACT's presence in Parliament.

He said he got about 75 percent of the votes in Epsom in the Auckland mayoral race and was "quietly confident" he could win the seat.

The seat was held by National candidates Christine Fletcher and Richard Worth in the three terms before former ACT leader Rodney Hide won the seat in 2005.

In 2008, Mr Hide won the seat with 56 percent of the vote.

Nominations for National's Epsom candidate will open in about a fortnight and a selection will be made sometime in July.



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