THE Liberal Party candidate preselection is looking like a two-horse race in the wake of Port Stephens MP Craig Baumann's withdrawal from office.
Port Stephens councillor Ken Jordan and former federal candidate Jaimie Abbott have emerged as the frontrunners for preselection for the March state election.
At the time of going to press and just hours into the lead-up to the close of preselection nominations, Liberal heavyweights were remaining tightlipped.
It was believed party members have been put on lockdown following speculation and claimed misrepresentation of the pre-selection process in weekend media reports.
Councillor Ken Jordan originally threw his hat in the ring for Liberal preselection in the Maitland electorate.
When Mr Baumann announced his withdrawal on December 10, Cr Jordan pulled out of the Maitland race and is now vying for the Port Stephens electorate. Cr Jordan chose not to comment to the Examiner until after a Port Stephens candidate was selected.
Jamie Abbott, who lists Nelson Bay as her current address, would neither confirm nor deny her candidacy when contacted on Monday.
"I am not allowed to say anything about the preselection," said Ms Abbott, who failed last year in her attempt to win the federal seat of Newcastle.
Geoff Cavanagh, president of the Port's largest and most active Liberal Party branch in Nelson Bay, said regardless of who stood for preselection, he was confident of a legitimate rank and file ballot.
"We will be seeking to endorse the best candidate for the position," he said.
"It has been speculated that Mr Jordan is favoured to win the seat, however [there has been] no such support ... we do not want a return to the Port Stephens Council baton-changing style which is still alive."
"Our branch supports a transparent, open and merit-based selection system."
One likely candidate not afraid to show his hand was Port Stephens mayor Bruce MacKenzie, who was pulling no punches in his assessment of the Liberal preselection skirmish.
"If Cr Jordan is not pre-selected then I will definitely be standing as an Independent," the 76-year-old said.
The Port Stephens Liberal Party's Steve Tucker said he believed the party was looking for someone who was young and a candidate who will be able to stay out two to three terms.
While he wouldn't comment on behalf of the party, he did speak highly of Cr Jordan.
"It is good to have people who have had a profile and had a track record in the area," he said.
Early rumours that Great Lakes Council's deputy mayor Len Roberts was running for preselection proved to be partly true.
The councillor said he had intended to run for candidacy, but following Cr Jordan's decision has decided to throw his support behind the Port Stephens councillor.
"He is a quality candidate," he said.