A pre-selection contest has delayed the Liberals naming a line-up for September's Newcastle local government election.
The Newcastle Herald understands 2019 state election candidates Blake Keating and Jenny Barrie are vying for the top of the party ticket in Ward 2, the only ward to elect a Liberal councillor in 2017.
Liberal incumbent Brad Luke is stepping down from the council.
Mr Keating, the University of Newcastle Liberal Students president, ran for the state seat of Newcastle in 2019 and is shaping as the party's lord mayoral candidate against Labor's Nuatali Nelmes, the Greens' John Mackenzie and an as yet unnamed Newcastle Independents nominee.
The Newcastle Herald has been told the Newcastle Independents, whose team includes former NBN TV news anchor John Church and 2017 lord mayoral candidate Kath Elliott, are chasing a high-profile candidate to challenge Cr Nelmes for the top job.
Cr Church ran for the Liberals in the federal seat of Shortland in 2013 before leaving the party to contest the 2017 council ballot with the Independents.
He is one of few Liberal candidates to have made a dent in Labor's political hegemony in Newcastle in the past 10 years, achieving a 5.6 per cent swing against Jill Hall in the 2013 federal poll.
Mr Keating was on the wrong end of a 10-point swing against the Liberals when he ran unsuccessfully against Newcastle Labor MP Tim Crakanthorp in 2019.
Ms Barrie enjoyed a 0.5 per cent swing in her favour against Labor's Jodie Harrison in Charlestown in 2019.
The Newcastle Herald reported on Monday that Labor had reshuffled its line-up for the September 4 council election.
Deputy lord mayor Declan Clausen has shifted from Ward 3 to replace incumbent councillor Emma White at the top of Labor's ticket in Ward 1.
Cr White and Rachel Smoothy round out Labor's Ward 1 team.
Cr Nelmes, who is running for lord mayor and as a councillor, has replaced Cr Clausen at the top of the Ward 3 ticket, in front of incumbent councillor Peta Winney-Baartz.
Cr Carol Duncan remains at the top of Labor's Ward 2 line-up, and Cr Matt Byrne has inherited top spot in Ward 4 from the departing Jason Dunn.
Labor is expected to win enough votes in each ward to claim at least one councillor spot. A conservative candidate, either from the Liberals or Independents, is expected to also win a position, leaving the third place to be fought out between the Greens, conservatives and Labor's second picks.
In 2017, these battles favoured Labor in wards three and four, handing them a rare outright majority in the 13-member council chamber.
Repeating that feat may prove a difficult challenge, but Cr Nelmes' profile could help the party's chances of retaining two councillors in Ward 3.
If she wins the lord mayoral vote, Cr Nelmes will vacate the ward position, leaving Labor's No.3, Margaret Wood, to claim a spot if the party again reaches the vote quota for two positions.
If Labor wins only one councillor in each of the four wards, it will lose its majority, even if Cr Nelmes retains the lord mayoralty.
If Labor achieves three councillors across wards three and four and the lord mayor's position, it will have six councillors and likely will rely on co-operation from the Greens to pursue its agenda.
The Liberals are hoping to improve their showing across the wards after a dismal performance in 2017, when the party suspended lord mayoral candidate David Compton and two Ward 3 candidates at the 11th hour over "irregularities" in their nomination forms.
The battle for the three councillor positions in Ward 1, which stretches from the inner-city to Mayfield and includes Stockton, could be a close four-way contest if the Liberals improve on their 2017 vote.
The party polled poorly in Ward 1 in the shadow of the Compton saga and the 2014 ICAC inquiry into illegal campaign donations, but five years earlier the Liberals garnered more votes than any other party in the ward.
Cr Church and Cr Mackenzie attracted a similar number of votes behind Labor in 2017 in Ward 1.
A revived Liberal showing this time could put pressure on one of them to retain their seat.
The Newcastle Independents will run Cr Elliott in Ward 2, Cr Allan Robinson in Ward 4 and former detective David Wild in Ward 3 after the retirement of Cr Andrea Rufo.
Lambton community newspaper operator Mark Brooker is running as an independent in Ward 3.
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