ACT Labor strategists are war gaming a worst-case scenario in which independent Senate candidate David Pocock and Liberal senator Zed Seselja are elected and high profile ALP finance spokeswoman Katy Gallagher loses her seat.
While it is not expected to be the most likely outcome, the most recent Redbridge poll showed Senators Seselja and Gallagher below a quota, at 25 and 27 per cent respectively, while the former Wallabies captain is not far off the incumbents, polling 21 per cent. Preferences will be crucial to the outcome.
Senior Labor sources have told The Canberra Times that Mr Pocock's run for an ACT Senate seat appears to have "cannibalised the progressive vote" in the territory.
In a blatant plea for Labor votes, the ACT Labor secretary has written to Labor members saying "there is no such thing as a sure thing in politics" and "progressive voters changing their vote to an independent puts Katy and Labor's position in the Senate at risk".
The Labor-loss scenario, although unlikely, runs counter to the widely-held view that Mr Pocock is targeting Senator Seselja's seat and appealing to wavering Liberal voters.
They said fake ads by right-wing group Advance Australia showing Mr Pocock as a closet Green are "clever" as they support the Liberal candidate by encouraging a Pocock protest vote.
It is understood there are both Liberal and Labor Party voter intention polling under way in the ACT.
Polling in individual seats is not always reliable - Senator Gallagher was shown in recent Climate 200-commissioned voter intention polling as potentially losing a significant vote to independents while Senator Seselja's vote has not shifted and has settled at 25 per cent.
The former ACT chief minister was leading the race in the Redbridge poll but below the seat quota of 33 per cent, with 27 per cent of the vote. That's down from her polling of 35 per cent last month, and the 2019 result of 39.3 per cent.
The "robocall" poll of 1064 people on April 23 and April 24 shows Senator Seselja settling below the quota at 25 per cent of the redistributed primary vote. Mr Pocock is now polling at 21 per cent overall. Fellow independent Kim Rubenstein is shown at 6 per cent.
Election analyst and publisher of the Poll Bludger, William Bowe, said, if the poll result is correct and holds till election day, then Senator Gallagher could be in trouble.
"These figures suggest Seselja would most likely lose his seat to Pocock, although the fall in the Labor vote is enough to suggest that any combination of two out of Gallagher, Seselja and Pocock is possible," he wrote.
Noting the Redbridge poll, ABC election analyst Antony Green urged voters to not get too caught up in "strategic voting" and vote for the candidates in the order that they want them to win.
Strategic voting is when a voter supports another candidate more strongly than what would have been their number one choice in an effort to prevent an undesirable outcome.
"If you want to vote for Labor, then your second choice, second," he said. "I just warn against strategic voting."
Mr Green said protest votes have always been strong in the Senate and particularly in the ACT.
Senator Gallagher told The Canberra Times last week that the ACT Senate race was not a contest between "Zed and David".
"It's an independent versus the major parties campaign," she said. "I've never felt that there's any such thing as a safe seat and I think that's probably right in this Senate race."
Even paid up Labor members have been urged not to "risk" a vote for an independent.
"The reality is progressive voters changing their vote to an independent puts Katy and Labor's position in the Senate at risk," ACT Labor secretary Ash van Dijk wrote on Friday.
"If we want Katy re-elected, we need to vote #1 for Katy."
Preferences will be critical in the ACT Senate race. The polling shows Mr Pocock would receive the highest percentage of second preferences at 24 per cent, while Senator Gallagher would get 23 per cent.
On how to vote cards, Labor has decided to preference Mr Pocock's party second, the Greens third and the party of Kim Rubenstein fourth. The Greens are encouraging a second preference for Kim for Canberra, Mr Pocock third and are putting the ALP fifth.
Mr Pocock and Professor Rubenstein are encouraging an independent voice in Canberra through placing themselves in the "one" position on the Senate ballot and the other party at "two".