Jostling for preselection in the onetime bellwether federal seat of Eden-Monaro is heating up, with a move by some prospective Liberal candidates for a preselection plebiscite vote.
Liberals and Nationals eager to take on Labor incumbent Mike Kelly have begun positioning in the NSW seat that surrounds the ACT, despite the next federal election not expected for at least a year and due as late as November 2019.
Former Army combat engineer and self-described "Menzies Liberal" Nigel Catchlove has confirmed he plans to nominate when preselection opens, while international relations expert and Navy veteran Jerry Nockles is considering a tilt.
National Party federal director Ben Hindmarsh visited the electorate this week to talk up the Nationals' chances, prompting speculation of the first three-way race among the major parties since 1993.
Mr Catchlove describes himself as "economically dry and socially progressive".
He said a rank-and-file plebiscite would see better engagement from local branch members. Moves for so-called democratisation of the NSW Liberal Party are being spearheaded by former prime minister Tony Abbott but the plans have prompted warnings of branch stacking and factional dominance.
Preselections are currently decided by state executive members and high-ranking local branch members. Conservative Liberals want state-wide "one member, one vote" plebiscites.
"Trying something different is always good," Mr Catchlove said. "It will allow candidates to present to each branch member who will then make a decision and good competition among lots of members will bring out the best.
"The Nationals can fall into the trap of thinking that there's a lot of country areas in Eden-Monaro and therefore it's a natural fit, but it's not. The largest voting part is the Queanbeyan area and from the latest numbers, that region encompasses 37,000 people."
He served alongside Dr Kelly in Somalia in the 1990s. Labor's shadow assistant minister for Defence Industry, Dr Kelly won back the seat at last year's federal election.
Dr Nockles, who served in Kuwait and was a staffer for defeated Liberal MP Peter Hendy before joining the United Nations, supports a plebiscite plan.
"We all seek a greater democratisation within the party and for ways to better engage our membership," he said. "It makes sense to have the preselection as soon as practicable so the successful candidate can start taking the fight to Mike Kelly and Bill Shorten."
NSW upper house member Bronnie Taylor is among the names being mentioned for the Nationals.
Ms Taylor is a NSW upper house Nationals MP and parliamentary secretary for the Deputy Premier and Southern NSW, as well as a former Cooma-Monaro Shire Council member. She did not respond to a request for comment on Friday.
The 2016 result ended the seat's more than 40-year status as a federal bellwether for the party forming government. A lacklustre Liberal campaign saw a 5.8 per cent swing to Labor.
Insiders suggest Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull may be forced to call an election as soon as August or September 2019, due to a crowded calendar of state polls and the constitutional requirement for senators elected to half-terms at last year's double dissolution election to face voters again.