The results in Hutt South started how they meant to continue for most of the night- neck and neck.
The gap between Labour’s Ginny Andersen and National’s Chris Bishop kept closing and opening the entire night.
Hearts were thumping, nervous glances were exchanged, a beer was spilled at the clutch of jittery fingers.
Both candidates had been here before, in 2017, when they went head to head after the incumbent MP Trevor Mallard decided to run list only, with the intention of becoming the Speaker of the House.
But this time the late-night surge came through for Andersen, not Bishop.
At about 10.30pm a majority of 1158 landed, which grew to 2292 by the time all the votes were counted.
For the past three years the seat has been a blue island in a sea of red. The Wellington region is very much a stronghold for Labour, but Bishop shook things up in 2017.
He took the seat for National by a margin of 1530 votes. It was a victory that marked the first time the electorate has been held by a National MP since the seat was formed under MMP in 1996.
Andersen was gutted, but promised she’d be back to fight for the seat in 2020.
Not only did Andersen fight hard this time around, she had an extraordinary left swing on her side.
Hutt South comprises most of the city of Lower Hutt including the eastern communities of Wainuiomata and Eastbourne, and the western hill suburbs like Korokoro and Belmont.
As it happened
Bishop held his election soiree at The Victoria Tavern on the main street of Petone.
Blue lights set the scene in the bar and helium balloons are strung up about the place.
Bishop was “pretty nervous” at 9pm.
Members of the media all seem to have arrived at the same time and he’s fluttering from one interview to the next.
The gap between him and Andersen keeps changing, sometimes it’s a few hundred votes and sometimes it’s closer to a thousand. Andersen is consistently in front though.
“I’ve put my heart and soul into this campaign”, Bishop told the Herald.
“Just got to see whether that’s enough. These things do tend to bounce around in the Hutt – last time around it went back and forth right up until about 10.30 from memory – hopefully that will happen again, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
That’s the feeling of his supporters too, who know to buckle up for a long night after how the result unfolded last time.
Andersen was steadily ahead in 2017 until late in the night when the seat swung to Bishop.
While volunteers and supporters wait for the steady trickle of results in the electorate they watch wide-eyed at what’s happening in the rest of the country.
It’s an absolute bloodbath for National, poignantly illustrated for one group of Bishop’s supporters by Gerry Brownlee losing Ilam- a seat he has held for 24 years.
But as blue seats turn red, Hutt South is still too close to call.
Bishop knows how bad it is across the country for his party and that it would be an extraordinary win for him to keep his seat considering that.
There’s a glimmer of hope though, because his win in 2017 was also pretty extraordinary.
At 10pm, Andersen’s camp feels subdued.
Her volunteers are obviously over the moon for Labour’s massive victory across the country, but they’ve worked on Andersen’s campaign and the margin in Hutt South has just closed to 234.
Media have driven over Wainuiomata Hill to check in on her election night event at the local rugby clubrooms.
Andersen is nestled in around supporters at a table watching the national results.
A request for an interview comes with a wary eye from Andersen who tells a Labour press secretary she’ll talk in 10 minutes.
Just after 10.20pm the margin has closed again, this time to a heart-stopping 110 votes.
Andersen speaks to media saying she’s overwhelmed with how well the party has done across the country.
She tells reporters there’s no way of knowing which way the electorate will swing at this point in the night, but it was always going to be a close race.
“We’ve both fought an incredibly tough fight out here and that’s represented in the numbers we see tonight.”
Just minutes after Andersen sits back down there’s a sudden whoop from among her supporters followed by something that sounds more like a squeal.
In an incredible turn of events, the next round of results is dumped, giving Andersen a 1158 majority over Bishop.
By the time 91.1 per cent of the votes are counted, Andersen has a 1771 majority.
Speaking to media for the second time in the space of about 10 minutes Andersen isn’t prepared to call it.
Journalists tell her they have called it. Andersen looks at the press secretary – can she go ahead and call it?
She then looks at her phone where messages of congratulations are flooding in.
It finally sinks in. She has taken Hutt South. She can call it.
Andersen says the night felt like a rollercoaster.
“It’s been the fight of my life. I’ve worked every single day to take this electorate back and I’m proud to do that.”
She says she and Bishop have always worked well together and she’s pleased that Hutt South still has two MPs based in the electorate.
The media scrambles back over the hill again to catch Bishop speaking on the result.
He’s absolutely gutted.
“Over the last three years I’ve given my heart and soul to this seat and worked so hard,” he told his supporters.
“And we knew that going into 2020 would be a tough fight, because the Labour Party thinks that Hutt South is their birthright, and the Labour Party think that they own this seat and I was determined over the last three years that that’s not the case, that you can’t take any seat for granted.
“But as they say in politics, when the swing’s on, the swing is on.”
National’s Wellington Central candidate Nicola Willis was there for Bishop’s speech following an absolute left landslide in her electorate.
Labour’s Grant Robertson increased his majority over her to 14,935.
The Greens secured the second highest party vote of 30.7 per cent in Wellington Central, behind Labour.
Bishop describes Willis as his “best mate in caucus”. They’re both still set to get in as list MPs.
The pair have been somewhat of a dynamic duo, speaking on Wellington issues the past three years.
But the role they played in orchestrating Todd Muller’s eventually disastrous leadership bid will be sitting even less well with them now than it probably already was.
Just before midnight they front a television camera for a joint interview.
The street lights of Petone are, coincidentally, lit blue – a last acknowledgement of Bishop’s reign perhaps.