McFetridge quit the Liberal Party in May after losing his preselection in Morphett by a single vote to Holdfast mayor Stephen Patterson.
In August, he revealed Xenophon had told him he was unlikely to run a candidate in the seat, and would instead “be backing me as an independent Liberal”.
But when SA Best unveiled their initial glut of candidates last month, Morphett was one of the seven seats to be contested (it later became six, after the party’s Finniss candidate Rhys Adams was swiftly sacked for inappropriate Facebook posts).
McFetridge says the challenge, from local real estate agent Simon Jones, came as a “total shock”.
“I thought, ‘what the…?’” McFetridge told InDaily.
“I had put a call into Xenophon and [Mayo MP Rebekha] Sharkie a week before, and they didn’t return my calls, so I thought ‘here we go…’”
He said he had spoken with the SA Best leader three times and been given firm assurances of his support, “and the next thing – bang!”
“When this happened, I thought ‘Jesus’ [but] that’s politics,” he said.
“I haven’t bothered speaking to him [since], quite honestly… I’m just getting on and doing what I’m doing, getting out and burning shoe leather.
“As it’s turned out the way preferences flow it won’t do me a lot of harm – it might actually be good for me.”
Morphett will see candidates from Labor, the Greens, Dignity and possibly Australian Conservatives vying for votes, as well as McFetridge, Jones and Patterson.
McFetridge says as an independent Liberal he will preference Patterson, the man who ousted him from his seat, but has been told by senior Labor figures he will receive ALP preferences.
He says his campaign is receiving strong local support, with many locals telling him “they won’t be voting for Xenophon because of what he did to Ian Dempsey”, the local priest whom the former senator infamously named in parliament in connection with unsubstantiated allegations.
“The general view is Nick is going to have to show some policies now,” McFetridge said.
Xenophon stands by his decision to run against McFetridge, saying: “We have a good candidate running, who wanted to run in Morphett.”
“Our competition in that seat are the Liberal and Labor Party, and in a democracy we should give people choice.”
He said SA Best had not “made any decisions” about whether to direct preferences to McFetridge.
“Our normal position on that is to have an open ticket…I’ve got no authority to talk about that other than to say the general position will be to have an open ticket, but that’s something we’ll be discussing closer to the [election] date.”
Jones told InDaily via email that “SA Best wasn’t initially planning to run a candidate in Morphett”.
“However when I came along, given that I have lived in the area for over 21 years and have very strong local connections and community interests, it seemed a very good opportunity for SA Best to better represent the people of Morphett,” he said.
“Our campaign is not targeted against Duncan McFetridge, but against Liberal and Labor… SA Best can now give people a real choice.”
He said the Ian Dempsey issue “is not something that has been raised at all with me by constituents”.
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