RACING analogies are often used for political contests and in turf terms, the contest for Polwarth is a one-horse race.
Based on prior voting quotas, Transport Minister Terry Mulder is a short-priced favourite; Labor contender Libby Coker is an outside chance, while Country Alliance and The Greens are rank outsiders.
The electorate stretching from Panmure in the west to the Surf Coast in the east has been held by the Liberal Party and its predecessors since it was created in colonial times.
Few constituencies statewide have been held by the one side of politics for so long. The bookmakers predict a similar outcome tomorrow evening.
In the past four weeks, there has been some activity on the 2014 campaign trail. Mr Mulder has visited Camperdown, Terang, Colac and localities in between to promote the government’s record and splash some cash from Spring Street coffers.
The Polwarth MP gained office at the 1999 state election and said the mood towards the Coalition was far rosier than at the tail- end of the Kennett years.
“I remember 1999 well,” the 61-year-old said. “You always can get a sense of the mood of the electorate and there was a mood against the (Kennett) government then.
“It’s not the same this time around. The Napthine government is very popular I find, especially Denis Napthine himself. He’s a Premier that’s noted for his country background and he has an understanding of rural issues that no leader has had for many years.”
Mrs Coker was a late starter to the Polwarth trail. Labor originally preselected former firefighter Joe Brown, who, following his name being publicised, failed to campaign actively.
He later had a social media meltdown and lashed out at Opposition Leader Daniel Andrews and Labor party administrators.
Mrs Coker, a Surf Coast councillor, was drafted in to take his place. The former journalist and teacher travelled widely through the electorate and attended a number of public events.
“I’m a big believer in providing options for voters and giving them that choice on election day no matter how safe the seat is,” Mrs Coker said.
“When you travel around Polwarth, you go to places like Camperdown, like Timboon, like Colac, people want to talk about the state of their schools. They want to talk about their concerns about TAFE cutbacks and what effect that’ll have on their kids if they want to get a trade-based job.”
When Liberal MP Cec Burgin held Polwarth in the 1970s, two in three voters were conservative. It has remained solidly Liberal for several generations. The high watermark for Labor in the electorate was the 1996 election when Burgin’s successor Ian Smith was embroiled in a sex scandal involving his secretary. Mr Smith was subsequently sacked by then premier Jeff Kennett as a cabinet minister.
At that high-profile election, Labor candidate Fran Lehmann still only scored 42 per cent on a two-party preferred basis. Since Mr Mulder was elected, he has managed to claw back losses notched up at the end of the Smith years to make Polwarth one of the state government’s safest seats.
The small businessman easily brushed off an early challenge to Polwarth by former Geelong Football Club star Paul Couch, who was standing as the National Party candidate.
Mr Mulder made an impression on the opposition benches and came close to leading the Liberal Party when Robert Doyle backed him as his successor. But the Polwarth MP pulled out of the race for the top job when it became clear Doyle’s rival Ted Baillieu had the numbers to be leader.
Country Alliance candidate Phil Edge believes he can play a role in making the electorate contestable again. The 71-year-old was previously known for advocacy on Colac’s petrol prices. Mr Edge shared a similar view to many of his fellow townspeople that service stations were charging too much for unleaded fuel.
“It’s been a problem for 30 years and we’re still paying more for petrol,” the retired Colac policeman said. “Even this week, petrol in Geelong was selling for $1.27 a litre while in Colac it’s $1.46 a litre.”
Mr Edge said the Warrnambool-Geelong rail line and the poor condition of Polwarth roads were key election issues in the constituency.