Will Tony Abbott Get The Chop In Warringah?

What do you do when you respect someone but think their best days are behind them? 

This is the dilemma facing voters in Warringah. Tony Abbott has comfortably held the blue ribbon seat for 25 years but is locked in the fight of his political life hoping to cling on for yet another term, with even some of his most ardent supporters having lost faith in him.

Talking to people in the streets of the electorate, just over a week before the federal election, the sense is palpable that a prized Liberal stronghold is on shaky ground.

"I'm so disappointed as a Liberal, that he did what he did in the last four years," Clive, a long-time Mosman resident, told 10 daily while walking along Balmoral's wharf with his children.

"We've reached a point where we've had enough of him, so it's time for him to go."

One of Sydney's most affluent collection of postcodes, Warringah stretches north from the harbourside suburbs of Mosman and Neutral Bay to the ocean shores of Manly and Curl Curl. It's home to some of Australia's most expensive real estate, and has a median weekly household income of more than $2,300.

It has been held by the Liberal Party or its predecessors since its inception nearly a century ago. Abbott has retained his position with ease for a quarter of this time. Should he lose on May 18, it will be arguably the biggest story of this election, and in many ways, the end of a political era.

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He has convincingly held the seat, election after election, because of supporters who continue to trust he can get the job done.

"It's pretty clear to me that he's well liked in this community," Warringah voter and Abbott campaign volunteer, Brian, told 10 daily.

"He's got all the qualifications I think he needs to represent the people here in Warringah."

But from the turrets (yes, this is a very affluent area) of waterview homes now hang independent Zali Steggall's campaign placards, blaring her "sensible centre" agenda, and it seems to be hitting the right note with even some staunch Liberal voters.

Image: 10 daily

While you would have been excused scepticism just months ago over any suggestion the seat might fall from Liberal hands, an "anyone but Tony" sentiment in the area has boosted the possibility like never before.

And with a week to go, the former PM is no longer the favourite with sports betting agencies.

"I'm actually one of the 'vote Tony Abbott out' people," Clive said bluntly.

"I'm a Liberal voter so this is quite disappointing for me to have to vote against a Liberal candidate, but the only reason they say vote for him is because they want to keep the Liberals in against Labor and that's not good enough for me at a local level."

Fellow Mosman resident, Wayne, said he felt Abbott's "days are numbered".

"I think he's pretty old-school and maybe it's time for a new face and a bit of refreshment in the area. He's not as popular as he used to be," he said.

Anti-Tony groups have led a grassroots campaign against the MP,  including Get Rid of Tony Abbott, Vote Tony Out, Times Up Tony and Out With Abbott. Between them, they've collected thousands of social media followers, and led to anti-Abbott T-shirts and posters becoming a constant feature along the Manly foreshore.

While experts have warned a crowded field of candidates could jeopardise chances of ultimately unseating Abbott, Steggall seems to have overcome the risk.

"One of the key things that had to happen for the people who want to get rid of Tony Abbott was to unite behind another candidate, so that seems to have happened," Professor Rodney Smith, of the school of government at the University of Sydney, told 10 daily.

"There are other candidates and they will pick up votes, but there's certainly the sense that there is a single opponent."

As if a switch has flicked in the minds of voters since independent Kerryn Phelps claimed a longstanding Liberal seat in the Wentworth by-election, many Warringah locals have banded together to shake up their own electorate -- and they're prepared to look outside the major parties.

Warringah candidates Tony Abbott and Zali Steggall attend the Sky News/Manly Daily Debate at Queenscliff Surf Club. Image: Getty

"The danger for Tony Abbott is that he carries so much baggage that just seems out of tempo with the times," 10's National Affairs Editor Hugh Riminton said.

In the marriage equality postal vote, 75 percent of Warringah residents supported the 'Yes' campaign, but Abbott was always a campaigner against the cause, and abstained from the final vote.

On the issue of climate change -- an increasingly common theme of campaigns run by independents challenging conservative opposition -- Abbott has seemingly also missed the mark with local constituents. Just last week he was slammed by environmental groups after reportedly making a $100 wager the "climate would not change in 10 years".

According to a recent Lowy Institute poll, climate change is considered a "critical threat" to our national interests by almost two-thirds of Australians -- ranking it a higher serious concern than terrorism.

"But there's also other reasons why people might be cranky with him," Riminton said.

"He broke a lot of promises when he was prime minister, and the fact that he's perceived as leading that reactionary group that tore down Malcolm Turnbull, he's not well-loved for that."

Image: Getty

Steggall, a champion skier and former barrister who was born and bred in Manly, has amassed an impressive following for an independent candidate in a seat as previously secure as this.

"It's such a strong community campaign," Mosman's Tina Jackson, who has been a part of Steggall's campaign since the beginning, told 10 daily.

"There's over 3000 supporters, over 1200 volunteers, it is a community-initiated, supported and funded campaign."

Zali Steggall announces her candidacy for Warringah. Image: AAP

Steggall is appealing to residents who have a more progressive stance on social issues and climate change, yet still have faith in elements of Liberal economic policies -- voters who want to have their cake and planet too.

Much like Abbott at the beginning of his political career, Steggall is local, well-known and well-liked.

"I think principally, in a time of distrust of politicians and disillusionment with the major parties... you've got Zali Steggall coming in as an outsider," UNSW's Dr Mark Rolfe told 10 daily.

"She's a political cleanskin in that regard, she hasn't been soiled by the system. It's her outsider status as a woman as well that works for her."

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Amelia, a 23-year-old property manager from Balgowlah, thinks the campaigns being run on each side demonstrate why Abbott's "time is up".

"Instead of him actually going about and delivering brochures to our letterboxes about his policies and what he's going to do, he's sort of just slamming Zali Steggall," she told 10 daily.

"I think he's out of touch with at least what I think we need in Warringah, and I think he's just relying on people's previous ideas of him and knowledge of him to win."

For his part, Abbott is banking on the support of those who've stuck with him for years.

"I personally admire him, and I appreciate the work that he does in the community," Brian said. 

"I don't know any member of parliament who does the work he does in the community, especially not an ex-PM. I think he's a great guy."

Abbott volunteers with the surf club and is a former deputy captain in the Rural Fire Brigade. It's a selling point for local voters, who have come to know their MP as a dedicated member of their community.

Image: 10 daily

But after weeks of a fierce and at times brutal campaign, even Liberal volunteers hustling for votes on Military Road admit they're worried.

"Generally I think there were a lot of people who were looking for another candidate," Steve told 10 daily during his second day volunteering for the campaign.

"People were upset Tony stood on a conscience vote for the same-sex discussion and that didn't reflect the electorate."

Steve says he planned to stick by Abbott for as long as the MP is happy to stay -- not just because "it's very important the Liberals stay in government", but because he knows the candidate to be an "excellent and very honourable person".

"That’s Tony Abbott’s best hope: that in the final hour, the voters’ pencils will hover above those boxes and sheer habit will bring the number one back home against the Liberal name," Riminton said.

"But it’s not much hope to go on for a man who owned those beaches as well as the Lodge at the height of a storied career."