As the field widens, a serious new candidate for the Auckland mayoralty may just be the ticket. But whether it's Brown, Banks or Candidate C, the result's likely to come down to just one thing, and it's got nothing to do with policy
If I was David Lewis, former Pundit on this very site and now the communications king of Len Brown's Auckland mayoralty campaign, I'd be doing two things about now - giving my candidate a long lecture about discipline and organising the biggest enrolment drive in the city's history.
The Auckland mayoralty race is stirring into life with new entrants declaring their interest in the job, but shy of a well-known new candidate it remains a Brown v Banks battle at this stage.
Late last year when both the existing Auckland and Manukau mayors had declared, it seemed they had defined what would be a simple two-horse race - National had a former MP to back, while Labour would have been delighted to get behind a guy with any sort of popularity and freshness.
Yet in the months since both candidates have shown weakness. Both got caught out during the recent media obsession with expenses, both have said (hosting the Olympics in Auckland) or done (slapping himself) silly things, and both are tarred by the general disillusionment with existing Auckland governance.
So, less than three months from election day, tt's now a race that looks open to someone who can capture the imagination of Aucklanders, while at the same time projecting competence and leadership. Someone centrist, with a track record in leadership (perhaps politics, perhaps another sector), a high profile and a strong competency, 'get the job done' gene.
That ain't North Shore mayor Andrew Williams, although he has the power to disrupt either of the leading contenders, and it ain't Tenby Powell, who will be unknown to most Aucklanders and "Mr Sharon Hunter" to the few who recognise him. The fact that the story indicating his interest in the mayoralty - or deputy mayoralty - was broken by gossip columnist Rachel Glucina tells you all you need to know.
Williams doesn't have any appeal off-Shore. While clever old Matt McCarten thinks Williams will steal votes from Brown, I think it's as likely that he'll take them from Banks. The left and right spectrum has less force as an idea in this race. Instead, there will be a strong element of locality voting, I suspect, with voters backing the mayor they know (rather than the devil they don't). Brown would never have expected to win a lot of support from the Shore - his vote will come from the South and the West - so if more people on the Shore back Williams, that's likely to undercut Banks.
What works in Bank's favour is the stability of his support. He seems to be stuck around 30 percent. Up until now, that looked like a bad thing, with Brown up in the mid-30s. Arguably, he could still do with a circuit-breaker so that people might see him in a new light. But as Brown's support has dropped and with more candidates entering the field and spreading the vote, a steady 30 is starting to look better and better.
But then that also encourages a potential new candidate; someone who might have struggled to get above 30 percent, but reckons he or she could reach the late 20s.
For Brown to get back on track, he needs a new, non-flaky narrative. He needs to start delivering some grunty, fresh ideas that show strength, leadership and a serious vision (not, for example, an Olympics bid. Not all vision is good vision). He needs to discipline himself, work the right-side of the brain and dial back the emotion and self-pity (Jesus comparisons? Really? We've known they weren't a good idea since John Lennon).
Brown's advantage is that most Aucklanders are still only just getting to know him, and will make their judgment of him as a person and candidate during the last weeks of the campaign. Banks? We've known him for decades. We've decided. We're not going to change our minds in a hurry. Brown can still move the numbers - up or down.
If he can nudge it up just a little, he's still in the running. But more than else, his campaign depends on turn-out. Here's hoping more than half of all Aucklanders vote in this election, but it's not guaranteed. The number of voters should be bigger than your average mayoral race, but they're unlikely to be of general election proportions.
Banks' middle and upper class supporters will vote. The big question is whether Browns' folk will bother. Remember, this is a postal vote. So it's not a matter of getting people to booths, it's getting them enrolled and then making sure they tick and send. Can Brown build a big enough volunteer team to door-knock, to get enough of those forms ticked and posted?
You know what? We won't know the result of the mayoral race until October 9, but it will be largely decided by August 20, when enrolment closes. If Brown doesn't have voters in the south and west signed up in great numbers, it'll be over before it's really begun. If his organisation is good enough to get people enrolled, then it's likely to stay pretty tight until the end.