NSW's most marginal federal electorate is set for a preselection showdown this weekend, with the Nationals looking to enter the race for Gilmore with former state MP Katrina Hodgkinson.
Meanwhile, the Liberals are considering ditching their preselected candidate for someone favoured by Prime Minister Scott Morrison, in a move that would infuriate local members and the party's state executive.
The Nationals conducted a ReachTel poll in the south coast seat of Gilmore on Thursday seeking opinion on Ms Hodgkinson, a former state MP and primary industries minister.
The junior Coalition partner is entitled to run in the seat as the current Liberal member, Ann Sudmalis, is retiring at the election. Three-cornered races with Labor are not uncommon in these circumstances and can sometimes help the Coalition maximise the centre-right vote.
Nationals party sources suggested Ms Hodgkinson was keen to run. She had "no comment" when asked on Friday, but was aware of the polling.
The Nationals also declined to comment but it is understood party members and officials will meet on Saturday to parse the results and make a decision.
Gilmore, a largely coastal electorate which takes in the southern Illawarra and Shoalhaven, is the most marginal federal seat in NSW, and is held by the Liberals by just 1500 votes.
While Labor is tipped to win the seat, some Liberals believe they can hold it with a ferocious campaign against Labor's dividend tax plan, targeted at the electorate's many retirees.
Local Liberals preselected real estate agent Grant Schultz on December 12, but he is yet to be rubber-stamped by the party's state executive, raising eyebrows locally and at senior levels.
Sources said Mr Morrison's lieutenants were sounding out local members about overturning the preselection and choosing an alternative candidate, potentially the former member Joanna Gash, by using state executive's special powers.
But the more serious contender is former Labor Party president Warren Mundine, who will decide this weekend whether he wants to seek entry into Parliament with the Liberal Party.
Mr Mundine said he was having "serious talks" about his future, and that if he did run, he would want to contest the seat of Gilmore, where he has strong family ties.
"I love the place. I feel most comfortable in that area, for me it’s like going home," he said.
Liberal pollsters phoned Gilmore residents in November to test support for Mr Mundine.
The businessman left the ALP in 2012 and later chaired the federal government's Indigenous Advisory Council under Tony Abbott. He is not a member of the Liberal Party. It is expected the matter will be finalised within days.
Labor's candidate for Gilmore, former TAFE teacher Fiona Phillips, was preselected in early 2017 and opened her campaign office in Nowra last week, the South Coast Register reported.
The paper also quoted an anonymous local Liberal Party member saying: "If either Jo [Gash] or Ann [Sudmalis] are imposed on us as the candidate, there will be no one out campaigning for them. There will be no one on the polling booths."
Ms Gash is Ms Sudmalis' long-term political mentor and housemate. She did not respond to inquiries on Friday morning.
Ms Hodgkinson was the state MP for Burrinjuck, later named Cootamundra, from 1999 to 2017, and held the small business and primary industries portfolios in government. She is currently director of corporate counsel at Coalition-aligned lobbying outfit Barton Deakin.