The Coalition appears to be doing its best to lose a byelection that could make political history.

Constance has been open about the anguish of seeing much of his electorate ravaged by flame.
Friends believe he suffers from “survivor’s guilt” because his Malua Bay home was one of few on the street to survive. They worried about his mental strength, and understood why he declared two months ago that he would leave politics after the region had recovered from the bushfires, which hit Eden-Monaro and the neighbouring seat of Gilmore as hard as anywhere.
“We have an expectation that government and politicians can fix everything and we can’t,” one of his closest friends in the party says. “He realised he couldn’t. It had a profound impact on him.”
Awkward timing
Then, when a federal seat opened up that could deliver national glory to a Coalition politician, Constance declared on Tuesday that he would seek Liberal Party endorsement.
The withdrawal timing was awkward. News broke the following day mid press conference by NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, who had to pivot from extolling children’s drama classes to explaining why his colleagues’ emotional behaviour was good for NSW.
At exactly the same time, Constance was being given a robust character assessment by a fellow MP, who said in a text that the transport minister was unpopular in the party’s ruling moderate faction because “he leaks against all of his colleagues”.
Liberals murmured that Constance’s personal life could have emerged as a problem during a hard-fought byelection campaign. His falling out with deputy premier and Nationals leader John Barilaro didn’t help assuage concerns.
Constance’s stated reason is that Barilaro used the c-word to describe him. Imagine that.
The Coalition’s chances weren’t helped by the leak of texts from Barilaro to federal leader Michael McCormack, who Barilaro complained of not enthusiastically embracing his also-abandoned candidacy for the seat.
“To feel threatened by me clearly shows you have failed your team and failed as a leader,” Barilaro wrote, according to suspiciously well-sourced reports.
Those who have dealt with Barilaro might appreciate McCormack’s reticence. In NSW, the deputy premier is regarded as a less-disciplined version of Barnaby Joyce known to go on television and attack his own government.
Truffle farmer
With its two highest-profile candidates now self-disqualified, if not self-immolated, the Coalition may return to Fiona Kotvojs, a truffle farmer who came within 843 votes of winning the seat last year against a popular incumbent.
Fiona Kotvojs with the Minister for Small and Family Business, Skills and Vocational Education Michaelia Cash and Prime Minister Scott Morrison during the 2019 election.  Alex Ellinghausen
Kotvojs is reasonably well known in the electorate, in part because of her unusual surname. She can expect support from retirees in the coastal communities of Merimbula and Eden, and conservative high country folk in Cooma and Tumut.
Queanbeyan, which is almost a Canberra suburb, will be a electoral death zone for her.
The expected Labor candidate, Kristy McBain, appears to be a formidable opponent. As the mayor of the Bega Valley Shire Council, McBain worked every day for a month in bushfire recovery centres until she was too exhausted to carry on.
At a time of acute fear and uncertainty, McBain can offer empathy. She doesn’t have access to financial resources controlled by state and federal Coalition governments.
Former Bega Valley Shire mayor Kristy McBain last week. Alex Ellinghausen
“Kristy did very well during the bushfires but couldn’t deliver any money,” a fellow councillor says. “You can’t deliver in opposition.”
Launching her candidacy last Friday, McBain complained that some fire-hit residents are still living in tents and caravans.
Seeking support
A trauma expert who has consulted to the region’s emergency workers says the delay isn’t unusual, because natural disaster victims take a long time to settle on the direction of their new lives.
“Very often in rural communities six months after the disaster is a real peak in seeking support,” says Anne Leadbeater, who saw her Victorian town of Kinglake almost wiped out by fire in 2009.
Given the trauma of drought, bushfire and pandemic, the seat’s communities will want reassurances about the future.
When Morrison visited Eden-Monaro on January 2, Cobargo residents wouldn’t shake his hand.
The byelection will test if the seat has forgiven the newly-popular prime minister.