InDaily understands the Liberal Party has conducted two polls in the seat in recent months – a ReachTel poll earlier in the year, and a full benchmarking poll in recent days.
Insiders say the earlier poll indicates an uphill battle to reach 50 per cent of the primary vote – which could be decisive in a seat likely to be decided by preferences from Hamilton-Smith, Labor and a likely candidate from Nick Xenophon’s SA Best.
One said the very fact money was being poured into polling a seat that should in normal circumstances be comfortably on the Liberal side of the pendulum was “very concerning”.
Insiders estimate the cost of a robo-poll at about $2500, with a “full-blown” poll costing around $10-12,000.
But the party’s candidate Sam Duluk – an incumbent MP in Davenport who shifted seats to take on Hamilton-Smith after the boundaries redistribution – said it was “prudent to do polling in a seat like Waite, just as it is prudent to do polling in a seat like Frome”, which is similarly held by a nominally-conservative independent who has since sided with Labor.
“It would be inappropriate if we didn’t do polling,” Duluk said, but added: “I’m not looking at polling, I’m looking at what I can do for the community.”
“I’ll be working as hard as I possibly can to win the seat… I’m not taking anything for granted.”
Hamilton-Smith garnered 54.8 per cent of the primary vote in 2014 (61 per cent after preferences were distributed), down from 56.1 per cent in 2010.
He told InDaily the outcome would depend on which other candidates decided to run, and how they directed their preferences.
But he points out that Democrat Heather Southcott won the seat when it was known as Mitcham with only 25.9 per cent of the primary vote, after the Liberal vote fell to 45 per cent.
He conceded the Liberal Party would poll first in the seat, but said the question could be who came second and third.
That scenario played out in the recent Fisher by-election, which Labor won by just nine votes on preferences despite garnering just 26.7 per cent of the primary vote.
With a strong third and possibly fourth candidate in the wings, Duluk’s gamble in taking on his party’s former leader could yet backfire.
Pundits on all sides expect Xenophon to run a candidate in the seat, with former Boothby hopeful and current Mitcham councillor Karen Hockley widely expected to contest.
She told InDaily she would “never say never”, noting the “preselection situation with SA Best is very much in its infancy” but “obviously I’m interested in politics as it affects my local community, including particularly Waite and Davenport”.
“If I were invited by SA Best or NXT to represent them in an electorate I’d certainly consider that – and consider it favourably – but I’ve no idea whether that would be the case or not,” she said.
Without Hamilton-Smith’s defection, Waite is considered a nominally safe Liberal seat with a projected 10.4 per cent margin under the recent redistribution.
But a Galaxy poll published in the Sunday Mail on the weekend suggested the major parties were neck and neck on 50 per cent on a two-party preferred basis, suggesting a looming hung parliament.
On primaries, SA Best garnered 21 per cent, the Greens 6 per cent, Pauline Hanson’s One Nation 6 per cent and Cory Bernardi’s Australian Conservatives 3 per cent.
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