West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine is one of most hotly contested seats in Scotland with both SNP and the Tories battling hard to break the foundations of the Liberal Democrat stronghold on May 7.
Sir Robert Smith has held the seat for 18 years, but in 2015 he faces strong opposition from those hoping to capitalise on poor poll ratings for the Lib Dems and a surge in support for the nationalists.
Sir Robert appears to be approaching the election with trademark calm, but the fight is certainly on for the hearts and minds of a largely affluent area which is driven by the oil industry, agriculture, fishing and tourism.
Low unemployment and a large professional class help to define an area that stretches from Balmoral in the west to Lumsden and Kemnay in the north and Laurencekirk in the south.
On the east coast, it takes in the commuter towns of Portlethen, Stonehaven and Inverbervie and the smaller settlements of Johnshaven and Gourdon.
Such is the fight for the seat that Chancellor George Osborne made a surprise visit to Echt to declare a “two-horse race” between SNP and the Tories earlier this month.
It was a battle cry which effectively airbrushed Sir Robert out of the picture, but there is no doubt that the incumbent faces a tougher challenge than ever to be re-elected.
Indeed, he has admitted the result will be decided by just a “handful” of votes.
But Sir Robert, 57, said his fight to hold on in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (WAK) was with the SNP rather than the Tories.
While the constituency plainly rejected independence last September, the SNP has a strong platform on which to build votes.
During the nationalist landslide in the Scottish Parliament elections in 2011, Dennis Robertson stole the West Aberdeenshire Holyrood seat from Lib Dem Mike Rumbles with 42.6% of the vote.
The Lib Dems came in second on 28% with the Conservatives back in third place on 21%.
However, the Holyrood seat is just part of the larger Westminster parliamentary constituency, with the 2011 result telling just part of the story.
In the 2010 general election, the Conservatives came second in West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine on 30% with SNP third on 19.7%.
That has provided confidence for the campaign of Conservative Alexander Burnett, of the influential Burnett of Leys family, which owns vast amounts of land in and around Banchory.
Mr Burnett has had a long campaign after first being selected more than a year ago. He said that doorstep issues included a lack of broadband provision, poor mobile phone signal and a lack of investment in infrastructure.
But undeterred by his opponents, Sir Robert believes several factors work in his favour, not least the fact that he has a strong profile on home turf.
But that, his rivals say, is not enough at a time when voters are after something different. Indeed, his two main opponents are standing in their first ever elections.
Sir Robert claims his experience makes him the right choice, with the Lib Dems working effectively to curtail excessive Tory policies. As vice-chairman of the all-party group for the UK offshore oil and gas industry, he argued he was also well placed to create better safeguards for the North Sea sector – a key issue identified by the three frontrunners.
In addition, he says the party offers two prizes – a strong centre-ground alternative to the Tories at Westminster and an effective block to the SNP. He also believes the nationalists have fallen out of favour on the doorstep since the referendum with action on local issues being sacrificed to constitutional matters.
Sir Robert said: “The message we are getting on the doorstep is that the SNP’s preoccupation with the constitution has led them to take the eye off the ball on issues such as health and roads.
“Knock on doors in Laurencekirk and the thing that people talk about most is the A90 junction. It is time for the SNP to do something about it.”
Indeed, that issue was a key campaigning point in 2010. The SNP candidate Stuart Donaldson, at the age of 23, could be one of the “babies of the house” if elected on May 7. Despite the 60-40 No vote in Aberdeenshire last September, the politics graduate claims a “pragmatism” amongst the WAK electorate could swing it for the nationalists.
The latest poll from Tory peer Lord Ashcroft has suggested the SNP could be clear winners in WAK with 39% of the vote, with Conservatives on 25% and Lib Dems pushed into third place on 20%.
Mr Donaldson said: “On the doorstep it has been difficult finding Liberal Democrat voters.
“But there is a substantial core Tory vote in WAK and people here are happy to admit they are a Tory.”
He concedes that the question of another independence referendum has been off-putting for some.
“People say ‘I’ll vote SNP because you’ve got a good record but I’m not so keen on independence’.
“What I say to them is that we decided last September that we wanted to stay in the UK and we’re not going to ask that question again for a while. We have said there will not be a referendum until there is a material change and that doesn’t mean just the passage of time,” he said.
Mr Burnett claimed voters are “scared” that Nicola Sturgeon has not ruled out another referendum during the lifetime of the next parliament. Better Together campaigners have now urged tactical voting for Mr Burnett in order to derail the SNP.
Sir Robert Smith
Liberal Democrats, Sir Robert Smith, 17,362 (38.4%)
Conservative, Alex Johnstone, 13,678 (30.3%)
SNP, Dennis Robertson, 7,086 (15.7%)
Labour, Greg Williams, 6,159 (13.6%)
BNP, Gary Raikes, 513 (1.1%)
UKIP, Anthony Atkinson 397 (0.9%)
Majority 3,684 Turnout 45,195