The powerbrokers who will decide on the seat of Wentworth
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The powerbrokers who will decide on the seat of Wentworth

As Liberal candidates frantically pull together their preselection nominations for the blue-ribbon seat of Wentworth, the battle for the eastern suburbs seat is shaping up to be a two-man race.

Nominations for Liberal preselection opened on Tuesday, and will close in a week.

Liberal campaigner and Paddington branch president Andrew Bragg and former Israel ambassador Dave Sharma are the "only real contenders", according to several senior Liberals.

The fight for Wentworth: Andrew Bragg and Dave Sharma. 

The fight for Wentworth: Andrew Bragg and Dave Sharma. 

But their support base is very different. Mr Sharma has broad backing from the moderate faction outside Wentworth but Mr Bragg is understood to have the support of the local branches.

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One of the key players will be the former Waverley mayor and long-term friend of Malcolm Turnbull, Sally Betts, who has increased her hold on Wentworth, where she is seen as a powerbroker.

Ms Betts, who has worked for Mr Turnbull for years, was elected president of the Wentworth federal electoral conference on Monday night, replacing investment banker John O'Sullivan.

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Her election came as the former prime minister gave a farewell address at the meeting to his local branch members, as he announced he would be resigning from Parliament on Friday.

Senior moderate sources believe Mr Bragg has the backing of Ms Betts, while Mr Sharma is said to have the support of Prime Minister Scott Morrison and NSW powerbroker Michael Photios.

Senior Liberals said Mr Sharma was a frontrunner until Mr Bragg indicated he was interested.

Mr Bragg resigned from his job at the Business Council of Australia on Tuesday, telling colleagues he wanted to focus on winning preselection to contest a byelection, expected in October.

Sources close to Mr Bragg said he was adamant he did not want to "dance on Malcolm's grave" until Mr Turnbull's political future had been made clear. "Andrew was not prepared to show his hand until Malcolm made his decision about the seat."

Behind the scenes in Wentworth: Michael Photios and Sally Betts. 

Behind the scenes in Wentworth: Michael Photios and Sally Betts. Credit:Fairfax Media

Mr Sharma is seen as "worldly and cabinet material" but he does not live in the electorate and is not well known by local branch members.

One senior Liberal said: "Dave Sharma is an incredibly impressive person who should be in Parliament. I would imagine if he does not win this, the party will find him something else."

"There are two winnable spots on the Senate ticket so that could be an option, but there could also be some moderate seats that become available if people chose to leave after what went on."

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While Wentworth is a safe Liberal seat, the ABC's election analyst Antony Green said Mr Turnbull had developed a "huge personal vote" since being the member and a big swing against the government was likely.

Other Liberals have expressed interest in the seat, including the former Wentworth MP Peter King who lost a bitter preselection battle to Mr Turnbull in 2004.

The City of Sydney councillor and Tony Abbott's sister, Christine Forster, will also run for preselection, although sources said she had "no chance".

Labor has preselected Tamarama businessman Tim Murray but it is understood the party is still weighing up whether to contest Wentworth.

Alexandra Smith is the State Political Editor and a former Education Editor at the Sydney Morning Herald