NSW Nationals choose David Layzell for crucial Upper Hunter by-election

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Nationals leader John Barilaro and David Layzell pose for a snap last night. (Supplied: The Nationals)

The Nationals bid to retain the seat of Upper Hunter at a crucial by-election is off to a precarious start after the party hierarchy’s preferred candidate was snubbed for preselection.

Last night, local branch members picked construction manager David Layzell to contest the seat, which was vacated after disgraced MP Michael Johnsen resigned last week.

The ABC understands Singleton mayor Sue Moore was the preferred candidate among several senior party figures for the important contest, which would see NSW’s Coalition be forced into minority government if The Nationals lose.

The feeling among Nationals leadership was that Ms Moore, who has a significant local profile, would fare better at a time when allegations of sexual assault and misogyny have plagued the Coalition at both state and federal level.

However, Nationals leader and NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro had no recourse for a captain’s pick.

Mr Layzell said he was “feeling fantastic” after winning the preselection

“Two great candidates today, a great competition and of course it was a contest of ideas,” the Clarence Town man said.

“Luckily for me, I’ve come out on top. I’m pretty excited about it.”

Mr Barilaro said the party would throw everything at the seat, which it holds on a slender 2.6 per cent margin.

“We’ll hit the ground running now. We’ll prosecute a case about what we’ve achieved, what we’ve done,” he said.

The Deputy Premier will officially unveil Mr Layzell as the party’s candidate at Glencore’s Ravensworth Mine later this morning.

Mr Johnsen resigned after the ABC revealed he had sent lewd text messages to a sex worker during parliamentary Question Time.

Mr Johnsen is also under police investigation for an alleged rape, an allegation he denies.

Mr Barilaro, who was the first of Mr Johnsen’s colleagues to publicly call for his resignation, said he wanted to offer the Upper Hunter constituents solutions for local issues such as the Singleton bypass and Muswellbrook interchange.

“I know the events of the last week with the former member Michael Johnsen may overshadow [this contest] but have a look at what we’ve achieved as the National Party,” he said.

“This is going to be a tough fight, we’re underdogs. I’m pretty confident.”

Last week, Premier Gladys Berejiklian admitted the Coalition would need a “miracle” to win the May 22 by-election.

“If you look at the history of by-elections in NSW, there’s been at least a double-digit swing against governments and certainly it would take more than a miracle for us to keep the seat,” she said.

“We always hope for a miracle and hope we can buck that trend.”

Upper Hunter has been held by the Country/National Party since 1932.

Labor is yet to finalise its candidate, but it’s likely to be local union official Jeff Clayton.

The Shooters, Fishers and Farmers party hasn’t revealed its candidate. 

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