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Challenger to take on Downer for Mayo endorsement

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Failed Liberal by-election candidate Georgina Downer will face a preselection challenge for Mayo, with a local branch member telling a meeting of party members last night he will contest the ballot.

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InDaily has confirmed that party member Reagan Garner will seek to represent the Liberals in Mayo at the general election, due to be held by May next year, and has nominated for preselection to take on Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie, who won last month’s by-election with 57.6 per cent of the two-candidate vote.

However, party insiders believe there is still broad support in the Mayo branch for Downer to have a second crack at her father Alexander’s old seat, expecting the ballot to prove a one-sided contest.

The Mayo branch held its annual general meeting last night, with around 100 members turning up to pick over the entrails of the by-election defeat.

According to sources, Garner addressed the meeting, confirming that he had already submitted his forms to state party headquarters to nominate for preselection, with nominations closing at 5pm today for Mayo, along with all Liberal-held SA federal seats.

It’s not clear whether any other challengers will put their name forward.

Garner, a Hills-based hobby farmer and HR Services manager with Return to Work SA, was one of two hopefuls who withdrew their nominations for the by-election preselection because they did not have documented evidence confirming their Australian citizenship – the same issue that prompted the by-election in the first place after Sharkie was advised she was potentially ineligible at the time of her nomination.

However, contacted by InDaily today, Garner confirmed he had submitted his nomination and provided citizenship documents, although his nomination was still subject to the party’s candidate review process.

Reagan Garner. Photo: Facebook

Asked whether he expected to gain significant support, he said: “Obviously there’s a key group of people committed to the Downers, based on their history.”

“But being a Liberal, people like to have a bit of a choice… and we’ll go through that process,” he said.

Downer did not respond to inquiries today, although it’s understood she addressed last night’s meeting.

Sources say most of those who attended were “very pro-Georgina”, with a broad opinion that “she needs to have a go at a general election”.

That’s underlined by the fact the party has already spent significant funds on her campaign materials, which could be recycled for the general election campaign if she stands again.

However, others urged caution, warning the Mayo branch was “a big plebiscite with a lot of people”.

Downer has already confirmed she will re-nominate.

Downer looks on as Sharkie claims victory at the declaration of the Mayo poll last week. Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

InDaily understands many at last night’s meeting aired frustration with the party’s by-election strategy.

“There were a few criticisms of the campaign, in terms of materials and things like that,” one source said.

Labor will also have a choice of nominees for Mayo, with two former candidates confirming they would be putting their names forward.

Reg Coutts, the ALP’s by-election candidate, has confirmed he wants to run again, despite garnering just 6 per cent of the primary vote.

Coutts told InDaily when he was preselected for the by-election that Sharkie was “doing a good job” in Mayo and that he didn’t “want to see it return to the Downer dynasty”.

However, he says he believes the general election is “a different prospect”.

“There’s a different dynamic – it’s about change of government,” he said.

“The intention was clear at the by-election – many Labor voters went straight to support Sharkie.”

Glen Dallimore, an ASC worker and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union delegate who ran for Mayo in 2016 and Kavel at this year’s state election, has also confirmed he has “signalled his intention” to re-nominate.

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