Malcolm Turnbull is campaigning for his old foe Tony Abbott

Tony Abbott and his wife Margie listen to Malcolm Turnbull at the Coalition Campaign. Lukas Coch-Pool/Getty Images

Malcolm Turnbull has been enthusiastically encouraging votes for Tony Abbott to help shore up the House of Representatives seat of the former prime minister whose job he took last September.

It’s all about trying to dampen any protest vote — and there usually is an element of this for any incumbent going to the polls — against the Coalition government.

Voters in the Sydney electorate of Warringah have been getting recorded phone messages from the prime minister this week urging them to vote Abbott, who became opposition leader in 2009 by ousting Turnbull.

In a follow up letter, Turnbull says: “With the heavy targeting of this seat by pro-Labor activists, only a local Liberal vote for my colleague, Tony Abbott, ensures stable majority government, with a clear and detailed economic plan.”

The recorded message by phone went further, saying Warringah was one of 15 electorates targeted by activists trying to build a protest vote against the Coalition.

The ALP needs to win another 14 seats, and hold those it already has, to win government at the polls on Saturday.

“Your protest vote, be it directed to Labor of independent, could inadvertently deliver Bill Shorten as PM,” the letter says. “That’s a recipe for chaos.”

Abbott hasn’t been as supportive of Turnbull.

The former prime minister says the focus has strayed to same-sex marriage from the “big issues” of the budget and border security. He told Sky News it has been a campaign where “a lot of big issues have been touched on without really being developed”.

However, it would be amazing if anyone but Tony Abbott, who has held the seat since 1994, wins on Saturday. He has a fat margin of 15%.

So secure is the seat that preferences haven’t been allocated since 1983. The Liberal candidate’s first preferences haven’t been below 50% since then.

And any independent or minor party candidate would need preferences to have any chance of winning. If it does go to preferences, Abbott’s position becomes shakier with most of the other candidates reported to be putting Abbott last on their recommended voting sheets.

There are 10 candidates including Australian Idol host James Mathison who made a stir when he announced his candidacy. He is popular among younger voters and some commentators say he may attract disaffected Liberal voters.

Others include psychologist and former public relations consultant Marie Rowland for the Nick Xenophon Team. There’s also Green candidate Clara Williams Roldan, a Science Party candidate, one for the Arts Party and one for Christian Democratic Party (Fred Nile Group).

However, Abbott is most likely to be taking his seat in the new parliament.

“Unless Mathison or any other candidate has a strategy to take votes from the Liberal Party rather than Labor and the Greens, then any challenge to the Liberal grip on Warringah is doomed to fail,” says the ABC’s electorate guide by election analyst Antony Green.

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