Senior Liberal figures believe Prime Minister Scott Morrison is trying to oust the party's preselected candidate for the marginal NSW seat of Gilmore and reinstall sitting MP Ann Sudmalis in a bid to bolster the number of women standing for winnable seats.
Members of the state executive are mystified that they have not yet been asked to formally endorse real estate agent Grant Schultz as the Liberal candidate for the south coast seat, even though he was chosen by local preselectors more than a month ago.
In September, Ms Sudmalis announced she would quit politics, citing "branch-stacking, undermining and leaks" in the Liberal Party. Labor is widely expected to pick up the seat, which Ms Sudmalis holds on a wafer-thin margin of 0.7 per cent.
Mr Schultz - whose father Alby was a state and federal Liberal MP - won an uncontested preselection ballot on December 12 with the support of 40 out of 49 local members. But his position is yet to be formally endorsed by the state executive.
Party sources including several state executive members said it was highly unusual state director, Chris Stone, had still not asked executives to rubber stamp the preselection.
"There's definitely something afoot otherwise it would have just gone through," one said.
"The only reason a fax ballot wouldn't come to us is because people behind the scenes are playing games," another said. "Morrison probably has another candidate that he wants."
Liberal sources speculated Mr Morrison wanted to run a woman in the seat, perhaps by preselecting Ms Sudmalis, her predecessor Joanna Gash or someone else.
Ms Sudmalis said Mr Morrison had not asked her to run again, but did not rule it out.
"I haven't had those discussions," she said on Tuesday.
Asked if she would consider running again, Ms Sudmalis said: "If I were to consider anything at all, it would not be..," but then the phone cut out and she could not be contacted again.
Ms Sudmalis is one of several Liberal women to accuse members of her party of bullying and intimidation. She announced her intention to quit in September, before the NSW Liberals agreed to endorse all sitting federal MPs in order to save Craig Kelly from being dumped.
If Lucy Wicks loses the highly marginal Central Coast seat of Robertson, it is possible the NSW Liberals will have only one female representative in the lower house after the election, Sussan Ley.
Mr Schultz said: "I look forward to the matter being resolved," but had no further comment.
Special Minister of State Alex Hawke - Mr Morrison's representative on the state executive - did not respond on Tuesday, and a spokesman for Mr Morrison said he had nothing to add.
NSW Liberal Party president Philip Ruddock said: "These are matters for the executive to deal with at an appropriate time."