VIDEOS, GALLERY: Candidates forum

HUNTER HOTSEATS: The Twitter conversation

VIDEO: Sharon Claydon

VIDEO: Jaimie Abbott

VIDEO: John Church

VIDEO: Jill Hall

REPRESENTING the seat of Newcastle would be the equivalent of fighting for Australia, Liberal challenger Jaimie Abbott declared to her potential electors Wednesday night.

It was one of several intensely personal insights that emerged during a forum that lifted the lid on the motivations and intentions of candidates vying for the federal seats of Newcastle and Shortland.

Newcastle candidates Sharon Claydon and Ms Abbott and Shortland candidates John Church and incumbent Jill Hall went head to head in the forum hosted by the Newcastle Institute and Newcastle Herald at Newcastle City Hall.

In a night that reinforced the old adage that all politics is local, both sides agreed that the reappointment of Kevin Rudd as prime minister had significantly affected their chances.

"It's certainly enhanced our chances since Kevin Rudd was re-elected to the leadership of the Labor Party," Newcastle Labor candidate Ms Claydon, who is hoping to inherit the seat from incumbent Sharon Grierson, said.

But Ms Abbott, who needs a 12.5 per cent swing to take the seat, hit back.

"In 2007, people voted for Kevin Rudd and got Julia Gillard. In 2010 they voted for Julia and now they have Kevin. People are telling me they don't know who they will get if they vote Labor."

It was a similar theme from Mr Church, who needs a swing of 12.9 per cent to unseat member for Shortland Jill Hall.

But Ms Hall, in the face of bursts of heckling from Liberal supporters, gave the most passionate defence of the Labor leader.

"I'm the only one here who knows Kevin Rudd personally . . . I can understand why John and Jaimie are worried," she said.

Ms Claydon and Ms Hall pitched the benefits of the government's Better Schools Program, National Broadband Network and Disability Insurance Scheme.

In contrast, Mr Church and Ms Abbott argued the government stood condemned as a result of the carbon tax and its inability to stop the boats.

Both Ms Claydon and Ms Abbott admitted it was difficult to tell if the Coalition's landslide victory in the last election would be repeated.

"If you look coldly at the numbers, it's obvious that a lot of people who previously voted Labor voted Liberal for the first time," Ms Claydon said.

Ms Hall launched a strident defence against a suggestion that she had been flying beneath the radar in the relatively safe Labor seat of Shortland.

She cited numerous occasions where she had campaigned for her community.

"I'm not about getting the 10-second news grab . . . I'm no show pony," she asserted.

Mr Church pledged to improve the economic, social and environmental outlook of the diverse electorate.

The well-known media personality also rejected a suggestion that a Coalition government would cut funding to the ABC.

"We fully support ABC funding; it's got an important part to play in our society," he said.

Several in last night's audience protested that the Greens, which achieved about 15 per cent of the primary vote in Newcastle in the 2010 federal election, were not invited to participate in the forum.

Newcastle Institute chairman Ross Kerridge explained that only Labor and Liberal candidates had been invited because they would ultimately determine the outcome of the seats.

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