COWPER has been flagged as a key seat to watch at the May 18 federal election.
Prime minister Scott Morrison called the election at 8am Wednesday (April 11), firing the starter's gun on a five-week race to the finish line.
Opinion polls are pointing to the Liberal-National coalition losing power to Labor after five-and-a-half years in office.
Neither major party is expected to win majority control of the Senate, with half of the 76-seat upper house up for grabs.
After a national redrawing of seat boundaries, the coalition starts with a notional 73 seats (down from 74) with Labor on 72 (up from 69).
Mr Morrison became prime minister in August after the Liberal Party dumped Malcolm Turnbull amid a failed leadership coup by Peter Dutton.
Independent MP Rob Oakeshott, who helped deliver Julia Gillard minority government in 2010, is taking another shot at returning to parliament in the wake of Nationals MP Luke Hartsuyker retiring.
He faces the Nationals' Patrick Conaghan in the marginal Mid-North Coast seat.
A redistribution shifted the seat south to encompass Port Macquarie at the 2016 election, and Mr Oakeshott, who previously represented Lyne, contested Cowper and came within five per cent of defeating Mr Hartsuyker.
Retiring after 17 years in the seat, Mr Hartsuyker this week took an pre-emptive swipe at Oakeshott labelling him a "Labor stooge".
All people have the right to strong, honest and selfless representation in Canberra.Patrick Conaghan
Mr Hartsuyker has thrown his weight behind Mr Conaghan who says he is ready to face the challenges of the next five weeks.
"I have spent the past five months travelling through our townships knocking on thousands of doors meeting residents, business owners and community groups to listen to their concerns and wants for the future," Mr Conaghan said.
"Cowper is one of the largest electorates in NSW and each town and village has its own diversity and community needs.
"Our residents deserve their fair share and the opportunity to thrive in a prosperous economy. All people have the right to strong, honest and selfless representation in Canberra."
This election is a chance for the people of Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Kempsey and the Mid-North Coast to usher in a positive, prosperous and sustainable future.Andrew Woodward
Labor candidate Andrew Woodward said this election is about policy, stability and fairness.
"The era of political personalities and cuts, chaos and division must end," Mr Woodward said.
"Under the National Party, we have been taken for granted. We have been neglected. We have missed out. We have fallen behind. We have been let down. More of the same is not good enough. Enough is enough.
"This election is a chance for the people of Port Macquarie, Coffs Harbour, Kempsey and the Mid-North Coast to usher in a positive, prosperous and sustainable future for this and future generations. We're ready. I am ready."
He said there are four key issues in Cowper this election including addressing the crisis in youth unemployment and chronic general unemployment; preserving, restoring and protecting the environment and acting on climate change; increasing fairness and reducing inequality for all people locally; and restoring stability to government.
Competition is a wonderful thing in politics and it allows all community groups, all citizens in our local area to put pressure on politicians to get the results we deserve.Rob Oakeshott
Independent Rob Oakeshott said now is the time for people to use their vote to change the course of the electorate.
"I stand seeking improved results for our local community and improved standards within our national parliament," Mr Oakeshott said.
"Over this past three years, there has been obvious failure to deal with increased costs of living such as higher energy bills and higher childcare costs, failure to deliver equitable NDIS and NBN as promised, failure to address some of the highest rates of youth unemployment in Coffs, failure to address suicide rates in the Macleay, failure to deliver a national dementia strategy, and failure to complete the Coffs Harbour bypass despite both major parties promising it would be done 20 years ago.
"I stand because of the failure of both major parties to keep a prime minister for more than a year, and the increasing damage they both continue to do to our international reputation on a number of issues. So I stand for better community results and a better Parliament."
United Australia Party's Lex Stewart has been contacted for comment.