ANN Sudmalis will fly the Liberal Party flag in the seat of Gilmore at the next federal election after a surprise preselection win on Saturday.
The former Kiama councillor, teacher, and Bomaderry business operator beat rivals Andrew Guile, Grant Schultz and Catherine Shields, claiming more than half the required votes from Liberal Party preselectors.
Mrs Sudmalis said the backing of outgoing Liberal MP Joanna Gash was vital in gaining the nod from the party's preselectors.
"They know Jo is in the best position to judge who will do well working for the people of Gilmore," she said.
Mrs Sudmalis pointed out she had been working for Gilmore's residents for the past five years as Mrs Gash's staff member, and was looking forward to continuing that effort "in a more formal capacity".
Before working for Mrs Gash, Mrs Sudmalis was a science teacher for 10 years and co-owner of Gran's Fudge at Bomaderry for 17 years.
She stood unsuccessfully against Matt Brown for Kiama at the 2007 state election.
Mrs Sudmalis said the earlier bid for political office taught her valuable lessons about getting out and letting people know who she was and what she stood for.
That was also vital in the preselection battle, with Mrs Sudmalis spending a lot of time putting herself forward to the preselectors.
"They needed to see me as an individual," she said.
The success of her campaign resulted in Mrs Sudmalis gaining 16 votes ahead of Shoalhaven deputy mayor and preselection favourite Andrew Guile with 10, Grant Schultz with four and Catherine Shields on one.
Mrs Sudmalis said she was surprised by the ease of her win as, "It was very close on Friday, within a vote or two either way."
The preselection battle was coloured by factional fighting within the Liberal Party, leading to two candidates resigning from the party and a preselector having her membership suspended.
Mrs Sudmalis said she kept away from the factional problems.
“My whole idea was to stay focused” and was unsure whether it impacted on the vote.
However she was certain a lot of work lay ahead for her.
“The most important thing is to really work with and for your people, because your job is to be their champion,” she said.
Mrs Sudmalis’ preselection is expected to be officially ratified by the Liberal Party’s executive council on Friday.
With the Liberal Party finalising its candidate for the federal poll, all eyes have turned to the ALP.
Labor Party hopeful candidate and current Kiama councillor Neil Reilly said the preselection “is to be held soon, and no doubt we will have a number of strong contenders, but I am afraid it will not provide anywhere near the same level of unedifying entertainment as our opposition hopefuls have provided.”
Cr Reilly congratulated Mrs Sudmalis on her victory.
“I know it will be a difficult task to unite the deep splits in the various factions of the Liberal Party in Gilmore, let alone carry on in the shadow of Jo Gash, but I am sure Ann is aware of the challenges ahead,” he said.