Voting is underway in the Eden-Monaro by-election, which is expected to be a tight contest between Labor and the Liberals.
And both major parties are already rehearsing their excuses should they lose the battle that has been fought against the backdrop of drought, bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic in the past six months.
There are 14 candidates running but the race is widely expected to come down to a contest between Labor’s Kristy McBain and Liberal Fiona Kotvojs, neither of whom is likely to win on primary vote alone.
Betting odds have the Labor candidate slightly ahead.
“It will be a close call. I’m not quite sure whether the actual result will be known tonight,” Mr McCormack told reporters at a polling booth in Tumut.
The Nationals leader noted that in last year’s federal election the seat went down to the wire, and he expects preferences will again play a part.
The by-election for the federal seat in the south eastern corner of NSW was triggered when respected Labor member Mike Kelly resigned from parliament due to health concerns.
About half of the 114,000 voters have already either cast their ballot early or mailed it in.
Labor leader Anthony Albanese was trying to claim underdog status, in what is seen as a bellwether electorate in a federal election..
“Eden-Monaro has always been held by the party in government, that’s one of the reasons why we are up against it in this by-election,” Mr Albanese said at a Merimbula polling station where Ms McBain cast her vote.
“The only time that hasn’t happened is when Mike Kelly won the seat in 2016 and then again last year.”
Mr McCormack said there has been 158 by-elections since federation in 1901 and only one has gone to the government over the opposition, and that was in 1920.
“Anthony Albanese has everything to lose today,” he said. “The pressure is all on Labor. The pressure is not on Scott Morrison, it is not on the government.”
The vast electorate that surrounds the ACT has suffered from drought, floods, bushfires and the coronavirus recession in recent months.
“Today is a chance to send government a message that six months on from bushfire we shouldn’t still be waiting for assistance, a chance to send a message that businesses need help, and they need a plan for the future,” Ms McBain told reporters after casting her vote.
Ms Kotvojs said the electorate needs to be rebuilt after a tough six months.
“People need to think about which of the candidates is able to be a strong voice in government to deliver, which of the candidates brings a breadth of skills to be able to deliver for this diverse electorate,” she told reporters after casting her vote at a Jerrabomberra polling booth.
Nationals candidate Trevor Hicks hopes voters will look past the slick campaign machines of the two major parties and vote for him instead.
“It really need somebody at this stage to support them after the fires, after the COVID restrictions that we’ve had, and the drought that has affected so many farmers,” Mr Hicks told Sky News.
He confirmed Nationals preferences would be aimed at its coalition partner, the Liberals. Greens preferences will be going to Labor.
The electoral commission has warned people it may take longer than usual to cast their vote due to coronavirus safety measures.
Voting places will have hand sanitiser and social distancing measures in place, and people have been asked to bring their own pen or pencil.