NSW Government Facing By-Election Loss After Leadership Spill
It will be the first time Liberal have lost the seat of Wagga Wagga in 60 years.
The NSW government is on its knees in Wagga Wagga, with early results suggesting a massive swing against the Liberals and spelling a historic loss.
As they brace for their first defeat in the regional seat in over 60 years, independent candidate Joe McGirr has emerged as the favourite.
There is a projected swing of about 29 percent against the government.
Addressing supporters in his Wagga backyard, Dr McGirr said he was feeling "quietly optimistic" but didn't expect a result on Saturday night.
"I think we've been able to make the seat count, we've been able to stand up and have our voice heard," he told the small but jubilant bunch.
The doctor and academic ruled out joining the coalition once in government.
"I have been an independent, I am an independent, I intend to continue as an independent," he said.
No matter the outcome, Labor candidate Dan Hayes declared the community had "made Wagga marginal again" after arriving at the election night reception to rapturous applause.
"We've been neglected for too long, for too long and we're sending them a message: we won't be neglected anymore."
A troubled campaign bookended by a local corruption scandal and a messy federal leadership coup has eroded their once-safe 12.9 percent margin, senior government sources say.
NSW Liberal state director Chris Stone on Saturday told the party function "on current projections it will be very difficult for us to get there".
Liberal candidate Julia Ham told the subdued crowd she would consider running in March if the loss eventuated.
"It may be over but it's something that I would certainly stand for again," she said.
Both Mr Hayes and Dr McGirr agreed earlier in the day there was an appetite for change in the community, though neither knew how it would manifest.
Mr Hayes said the local and national scandals had stoked community anger.
"People have been lining up early and for me, that's an indication they're ready to vote, they're ready to make a change - where that change will go is still tough," Mr Hayes said.
Dr McGirr said he could feel the shift at polling booths but was unsure where traditional Liberal voters would redirect their vote.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian conceded victory would be difficult.
"It's a struggle," she said during a brief appearance at Sturt Public School polling booth with Ms Ham.
Ms Berejiklian did not attend the Liberal election function on Saturday night.
The premier and several senior colleagues have acknowledged Malcolm Turnbull's knifing deterred some Wagga voters but federal Senator Jim Molan dismissed those concerns.
"I've seen no indication that that's even a factor," he told AAP as he handed out how-to-vote cards.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack wouldn't be drawn on whether the federal coalition would be to blame for a loss.
"We're not intending to lose the seat, we're intending to win the seat and that question is hypothetical," he said.
NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro was a notable absence in Wagga but Mr McCormack said "he's probably got things to do in his own electorate".