VOTERS in the state seat of Upper Hunter will head to the polls on May 22, after the resignation of Nationals MP Michael Johnsen threw the electorate into a shock by-election.
Mr Johnsen resigned from parliament on March 31, following allegations he raped a sex worker and exchanged lewd messages and explicit videos with the alleged victim during question time.
Mr Johnsen denies the rape allegation, which is under NSW Police investigation, citing "the harassment of some sections of the media" as his reason for withdrawing from public life.
The Nationals now face a tough battle to retain the seat, which they hold by just 2 per cent.
It's a seat they have held since the 1930s, but has become one of the most marginal in NSW following the 2019 state election results which saw Labor candidate Melanie Dagg gain 28.6 per cent of first preference votes, and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers' Lee Watts win 22 per cent, while Michael Johnsen gained 34 per cent.
Labor has confirmed Ms Dagg won't run in the 2021 by-election following her resignation as a Cessnock councillor, and the party is expected to endorse former Muswellbrook deputy mayor, coal miner and CFMEU Mining and Energy official Jeff Drayton within the next two weeks.
The Nationals' preselection process is currently underway with nominations now closed and a decision to be made on who will be their new hope on Wednesday night.
Scone based Upper Hunter shire councillor James Burns will not throw his hat in the ring again, following an unsuccessful tilt at Nationals preselection ahead of the 2019 state election.
Singleton Mayor Sue Moore has also emerged as a surprise front-runner for the Nationals nomination, while former Liverpool Plains Shire mayor Andrew Hope has put to bed rumours he is running.
Nationals will also face a battle against One Nation and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party who have both confirmed they will be putting a candidate forward.
Speculations that Stuart Bonds would have a shot at state politics following his popularity running against Labor's Joel Fitzgibbon in the May 2019 Hunter federal election have been put to rest, with Party leader Mark Latham stating they are looking at "other options".
Meanwhile Shooters, Fishers and Farmers are expected to make their decision by the end of the week.
Hunter spokesperson for SFF John Preston has confirmed his interest after bowing out of the 2019 election due to family commitments.
At the time, SFF named Scone based Upper Hunter shire councillor Lee Watts as their replacement candidate.
Mrs Watts has not ruled out another tilt, but has confirmed if she does run it will be as an independent.
On Tuesday, former Upper Hunter Shire councillor and prominent Scone landowner Kate Fraser announced her intention to run as an independent.