Two months out from the November state election and Labor is yet to pre-select a candidate to run in the district of Shepparton.
Arguably, the Andrews Government sees no need to run — it has no chance of winning the seat.
Support for Labor has been trending down for decades, from primary vote highs of 30 per cent in the 1990s, to between 16 and 18 per cent at the most recent polls.
Those highs were reached in the context of a two-horse race where the only options for voters were the Labor or Nationals candidate.
More recent contests have had numerous aspirants step onto the field — until last election when independent Suzanna Sheed did the unthinkable and achieved a 17 per cent swing against the incumbent and took a seat the National/Country Party had owned for seven decades.
Thanks to Sheed’s win, and those of Cathy McGowan in the federal seat of Indi and more recently Dr Joe McGirr in NSW state seat of Wagga Wagga, the Liberal/National Coalition is running scared of outsider independents.
Looming elections in Victoria and NSW, and the federal poll tipped for May, will test the major parties, which have been collectively losing primary voter support at a steady rate for decades.
Through the 1980s and 1990s, Labor and the Coalition regularly had 90 to 95 per cent of the federal primary vote between them, bar the odd surge to the defunct Democrats.
But at the turn of the millennium something started to go awry for the majors as rusted-on supporters began to trickle away.
The destinations were numerous; One Nation, the Greens, later Family First and Palmer United, a grab-bag of single issue parties and the independents.
At the last federal election, the major parties registered just 77 per cent of the primary vote, a loss of nearly one in five voters over 30 years.
Seats previously believed unlosable have become vulnerable as proved in Shepparton, Indi and Wagga Wagga.
Labor and the Coalition are looking over their shoulders, not at the old foes in each other, but at new ones.
The oft-used term ‘‘both sides of politics’’ has become defunct.
Labor will field a candidate in Shepparton, throwing the unlucky contestant into the fray at the last minute not because they can win, but because Sheed can, thereby robbing the old Coalition foe of a government-forming seat.
Sheed is the favourite to retain Shepparton and it is to be expected Labor will preference her second behind their candidate to make sure she does.
Peter Schwarz of the Nationals and the Liberal’s Cheryl Hammer are by no means out of the race.
Each will appeal to a similar, but different demographic of conservative voter.
It is to be expected that each will preference their Coalition partner’s candidate second, meaning whichever one comes out ahead, they will benefit from the other’s votes as well.
Sheed may find herself winning the first preference race and still lose to a Coalition member riding the wave of a combined Liberal/National vote.
It is a difficult race to judge.
The bookies have Sheed out in front, but three weeks ago the bookies had Malcolm Turnbull overwhelming favourite to lead the Coalition to the next federal election.
Nothing is certain, and everything is up for grabs. Get ready for an intensive election as all three local candidates campaign relentlessly, each believing they have a chance of winning — because each probably does.
Myles Peterson is a News journalist.