Paterson covers the New South Wales north coast from Port Stephens inland to East Maitland, and north to Foster-Toncurry on the coast and the dairy country around Gloucester. According to George Megalogenis‘s demographic tables, it is ranked fourth in the country for voters over 55 and seventeenth bottom for median household income. A seat bearing the name first existed between 1949 and 1984, but it was oriented further to the north and west, taking in Maitland, Muswellbrook and Scone. The new Paterson has been coastally oriented and highly marginal since it was recreated in 1993. Labor is strong in and around East Maitland, but the remainder of the electorate is solidly conservative, particularly the rural areas. The redistribution has resulted in a swap of one southern Labor voting area for another, with East Maitland gained from Hunter, and Heatherbrae and Williamtown lost to Newcastle. The commissioners originally proposed that Raymond Terrace go to Newcastle as well, but were persuaded by local councils that it belonged in the same electorate as Port Stephens. The changes have produced a modest 0.2 per cent shift in Labor’s favour.
Since its re-creation in 1993, Paterson has changed hands three times between Labor’s Bob Horne (winner in 1993 and 1998) and the Liberals’ Bob Baldwin (left) (1996, 2001 and 2004). Baldwin’s win in 2001 was assisted by a redistribution which added Forster and Tuncurry, resulting in a 2.5 per cent shift that made the seat notionally Liberal. In 2004 Baldwin faced an opponent other than Bob Horne for the first time, and enjoyed his first comfortable win following an evenly distributed 5.5 per cent swing. This swing was notably not replicated in neighbouring electorates, including the East Maitland area of Hunter, suggesting a personal vote for Bob Horne might have been boosting Labor at earlier elections. Baldwin went on to win promotion to parliamentary secretary for industry, tourism and resources at a reshuffle in January 2006. Labor has nominated Tea Gardens ambulance officer Jim Arneman (right), who was narrowly defeated in his bid to succeed a retiring Labor member in Port Stephens at the March state election.
At the start of the third week of the campaign, the Daily Telegraph ran a combined poll from the electorates of Paterson, Dobell, Robertson and Lindsay which pointed to an 8 per cent swing to Labor, easily enough to win them all four. The following week, Joe Hildebrand of the Daily Telegraph named Paterson along with Hughes and Macarthur among seats Labor was targeting in a strategy to spook the Government and draw precious resources away from a handful of must-win seats namely Lindsay, Dobell, Macquarie and Eden-Monaro. The Newcastle Herald published a survey of 300 respondents 10 days out from polling day which showed Liberal member Bob Baldwin with a counter-intuitive primary vote lead over Labor candidate Jim Arneman of 46 per cent to 32 per cent. The respective figures from the 2004 election were 52.0 per cent and 36.1 per cent. It also pointed to a similarly unlikely non-major party vote of 21 per cent, compared with 11.9 per cent in 2004.