The entire Liberal ticket for Newcastle City Council has been disendorsed by the party's state executive, the Newcastle Herald can reveal.
The Liberals were poised to announce councillor Brad Luke as their lord mayoral candidate and launch a historic first city-wide campaign in Newcastle.
But those plans have been derailed and the party faces a likely preselection battle after the state executive voted last week to re-open nominations.
The Herald understands the executive was initially asked to call for nominations in Ward 1, after internal vetting of an endorsed candidate forced him to withdraw.
It is unclear what reasons were given for the decision to re-open the entire ticket, but it follows factional rumblings at Maitland and accusations the party's head office deliberately stalled over its endorsement of a candidate.
Speculation is that Cr Luke, who was initially endorsed as the only nominee, could now be dropped from the ticket entirely in favour of a fresh-faced team.
Cr Luke, who is also the president of the Newcastle branch of the party, Newcastle MP Tim Owen and party regional campaign manager Aaron Henry did not respond to messages this week.
If a preselection ballot is required to choose the Liberal lord mayoral candidate, it could leave the winner with less than six weeks to campaign and build a city-wide profile.
The race for lord mayor is wide open with no clear front-runner, and votes are likely to be scattered among at least five candidates.
That leaves the Liberals, who have more momentum than ever in a Labor heartland since the state election landslide, with a strong chance.