Julie Bishop can pull a beer but can she pull votes for Liberal Mayo candidate Georgina Downer?
By-elections probably add little to our overall knowledge.
The stakes are too high to start a new policy brawl, so political parties prefer the relative safety of set-piece appearances.
But with Super Saturday approaching — the five by-elections prompted by the dual citizenship saga — we have learnt one thing, our very own Foreign Minister Julie Bishop can pull a beer with the best of them.
“When I was putting myself through university I worked in this bar at the Uraidla pub,” Ms Bishop told the ABC during a ‘politics at the pub’ appearance with Mayo candidate Georgina Downer.
“I just wanted to see if I still had the art of pulling a beer, and I’m pleased to say, I haven’t lost it.
“I can also tap a keg, but I’ll just stick with pulling beers at present.”
The question is, can the Foreign Minister help the Liberal candidate pull votes?
However, the experts say it really is a two-person race between Ms Downer and Centre Alliance’s Rebekha Sharkie.
Ms Downer’s father, Alexander Downer, held Mayo for 24 years from its inception in 1984 until 2008.
The seat stretches from Springton near the Barossa Valley, through the Adelaide Hills and down to Kangaroo Island.
While Mayo’s history might suggest it is a blue-ribbon Liberal seat, political scientist Rob Manwaring said that was a bit too simplistic.
“Mayo is often described as a safe Liberal seat, but it’s probably more accurate to describe it as a safe non-Labor seat,” Dr Manwaring said.
“There have been a number of scares over the years, particularly in the 1990s by the Democrats and more recently by the Greens.”
Former Liberal staffer turned Nick Xenophon team member, Rebekha Sharkie, wrested Mayo from the blue camp in 2016.
Polling suggests Rebekha Sharkie is the favourite to win the Mayo by-election on July the 28th. (ABC News: Simon Royal)
It could be argued the two factors that contributed most to her win were dissatisfaction with then-Liberal member Jamie Briggs and the local enthusiasm for Nick Xenophon.
Mr Briggs is no longer part of the political picture, but the implosion of SA Best and Nick Xenophon’s brand following the March state election could well be, according to Dr Manwaring.
“To some extent there’s a bit of tarnish to the Xenophon brand, so the question there for Rebekha Sharkie is whether voters feel some sort of backlash against Xenophon,” he said.
However, Ms Sharkie, now part of the re-branded Centre Alliance, doesn’t believe it will hurt her campaign.
“I greatly value our friendship, but Nick left our team, the federal team, some time ago to run for the state election,” she said.
The other challenge facing Ms Sharkie is that the Mayo by-election was triggered by the High Court’s decision that she and a raft of other politicians hadn’t properly renounced their dual citizenship.
“I hope people aren’t holding it against me,” Ms Sharkie said.
“People are probably most frustrated about the constant junk mail they are getting than going back to the polls… but you know, it is what it is, I thought I’d done everything in my power [to renounce dual citizenship].”
Georgina Downer also faces potential challenges convincing voters.
Her family ties with Mayo are a mixed blessing, with senior Liberals conceding the campaign has been hurt by the portrayal of their candidate as an outsider from Victoria, seeking to re-establish the “Downer dynasty”.
Ms Downer said she was hardly the first South Australian to seek opportunities interstate.
“I was an 18-year-old girl… I did really well in Year 12 and I was lucky enough to win a national scholarship to Melbourne Uni,” she said
“I didn’t want to go, I wanted to stay in Adelaide, but the opportunities were too great interstate, so I took them.
“I really want to be part of a trend of our best and brightest coming back to South Australia.”
Dr Manwaring believes some voters might take issue with Ms Downer’s time with conservative think tank, the Institute of Public Affairs.
“I think for more socially-progressive Liberal voters that might be problematic,” he said.
Whether it is claims of being a “blow-in”, or collateral damage from the Xenophon “blow-up”, candidates in any election come with their own baggage.
Those sorts of issues can be addressed, with varying degrees of success, by a well-run campaign.
Flinders University political scientist Rob Manwaring describes the seat of Mayo as a “safe non-Labor seat”. (ABC News: Simon Royal)
But Dr Manwaring points out that some trends are beyond an individual’s control.
“There are deeper structural terms that are playing out in Australian politics and indeed other Western democracies,” Dr Manwaring said.
“At the last federal election, it was the largest ever primary vote we’ve ever seen for the non-major parties.
“That trend only seems to be increasing… when a seat like Mayo elects an independent they like, they do tend to hang on to them.”
As Georgina Downer puts it, even if interrupted, incumbency counts.
“I’m running against someone who has been the member for almost two years, that really means that I am the underdog,” she said.
Only one thing is for certain, political pundits will be keeping a close eye on the result on July 28.