Having been rolled by Malcolm Turnbull and Tony Nutt on the question of pursuing a preference agreement with the Greens, Victorian Liberal Party president Michael Kroger has turned his mind to demonising other Greens preference arrangements as he backs Tony Abbott favourite Kevin Andrews against me, a Turnbull-supporting independent in the normally safe seat of Menzies.

Kroger penned this letter to News Corp’s popular eastern suburbs paper, The Manningham Leader, on Wednesday in a clear sign that the $50,000 “Fake Liberal” campaign against Kevin Andrews is biting.

Kroger’s attack was an attempt to discredit the “true liberal” pitch based on preferences in past campaigns. It was debunked yesterday, and The Manningham Leader editor has already agreed to correct a mistake in Kroger’s letter, when he claimed I “stood against the Liberal Party” in the 2012 byelection for the state seat of Melbourne. The Liberals didn’t contest that one.

In a further sign of panic, Kevin Andrews was yesterday authorised by the national campaign headquarters to make his first meaningful spending commitment of the election: a $5 million study into completing the Northern ring road from Greensborough to Ringwood.

[Mayne: inside my plan to take down Kevin Andrews]

This is the RACV’s No. 1 infrastructure project for Victoria and, surprisingly, no comprehensive study has ever been done on it. There was limited media coverage on this move, probably because Kevin Andrews made the announcement with Infrastructure Minister Paul Fletcher, rather than his nemesis Malcolm Turnbull.

After a relatively tricky time at Monday night’s first candidates forum, Andrews yesterday pulled out of the second scheduled debate in Wonga Park next Monday night.

This is high risk for a long serving MP who is being accused of taking the seat for granted. Discussions are already being held as to whether someone else will step in to fill his shoes on Monday night. What about someone from The Chaser?

The other seven blokes in the field have all agreed to turn up, which is not a good look for the incumbent of 25 years who doesn’t even live in the seat and told Monday’s gathering that his wife complained that he already spent too much time in Menzies.

Andrews will visit the seat for a fundraising dinner in Warrandyte next Wednesday, and he was also prepared to visit for his 60th birthday function at the Casavini function centre in Doncaster last December — although guests were charged $80 to attend, and there were more people from Jenny Macklin’s seat of Jaga Jaga (where Kevin lives and goes to church) than from Menzies.

[Rundle: Mayne v Andrews, the rumble in Menzies]

Meanwhile, our campaign is continuing to draw support from unlikely quarters.

One former ASX50 chairman, former GPT chair Peter Joseph, donated $1000 yesterday and agreed to have this statement made public:

“I’ve faced heavy questioning from Stephen Mayne as a public company chairman. He’s whip smart, tough, incisive and honest. I certainly didn’t always agree with him but there was never a doubt about his motivation. I respect that. Our nation would be better off if a Turnbull-supporting independent with his extensive governance experience and fearless advocacy skills was in the Federal Parliament.”

The Australian’s Sharri Markson produced an interesting piece on Rob Oakeshott’s campaign yesterday, and it has been a little surprising that no mainstream journalist, besides Guy Rundle, has yet come out to Menzies for a look at the issues.

With continuing funding support we are sprinting to the line with another $5000 full electorate flyer drop next week, a full-page ad on page 4 of The Manningham Leader on Monday, another ReachTEL poll over the weekend (see the first one here), a direct mail to some female voters, a volunteers’ function next Thursday night and a bowls club function to thank over 100 volunteers after the polls close.

Roy Morgan Research released an SMS poll on Tuesday that suggested Menzies was in play and “honesty in government” was a big issue. Judging by the 12-page glossy booklet which Kevin Andrews has delivered to all households this week, the Liberals are getting increasingly nervous. It made no mention of the $30,000 Andrews has taken from the pokies industry to fund past campaigns.

This afternoon we collect our 40,000 how-to-vote cards, and we’re continuing to staff the main early voting booth, where more than 4000 votes have already been cast, up from the 3330 formal early votes in 2012.

With Victorian school holidays starting today, tomorrow’s special Saturday early voting session should be especially busy and total early votes are now expected to top 8000.

* City of Melbourne councillor Stephen Mayne is running as a “pro-Turnbull independent” in Menzies and was not paid for this item.