With just 24 hours to go until the National caucus votes on its next leader, party firebrand Judith Collins is feeling confident and fronting the media. Sam Sachdeva and Shane Cowlishaw report.

National leadership candidate Judith Collins says she is feeling confident about her chances as the caucus vote draws closer, despite reports she is at the back of the five-MP pack.

Collins hasn’t ruled out a tilt for the deputy’s job if she does fall short, although says that would require the full support of the new leader.

Two frontrunners, Simon Bridges and Amy Adams, appear to have streaked ahead, but the final result remains far from clear.

Soundings over the weekend suggest the candidates – Collins, Bridges, Adams, Steven Joyce, and Mark Mitchell – were working the phones frantically with several camps insisting the race is still up for grabs.

Collins, who has been making numerous media appearances throughout the two-week “campaign period”, told Newsroom she was happy with the response she had received from both the National caucus and the wider public.

“It’s not going to be business as usual if I’m the leader – it’ll be full on…the old saying, oppositions don’t win government, government’s lose it, yeah right, well actually, your job is to make them lose it.”

“I’m feeling really good, I know I’ve put a huge amount of effort in, and I’ve taken the opportunity to use it as an audition for the role of leader of the opposition…

“I’ve been talking to everybody, listening which is always good, and doing every piece of media that I can, which is essential in opposition otherwise you might as well go home.”

She had been speaking to MPs about the difficult nature of life in opposition, and how National would need to bring its best game if it was to have any chance of winning back power in 2020.

“It’s not going to be business as usual if I’m the leader – it’ll be full on…the old saying, oppositions don’t win government, government’s lose it, yeah right, well actually, your job is to make them lose it.”

Collins was the only contender to accept an invitation for an RNZ debate on Monday morning – following a similar experience with NBR – but was reluctant to criticise her rivals for failing to front, saying it was up to them as how to respond.

She was equally cagey on whether she would make a bid for the deputy leadership, although it appeared to be on the table as an option.

“I’d have to think on that if that happened tomorrow: what I wouldn’t want to do was put myself forward if the leader expressed a contrary view – it’s not like I’m hanging out for something to do, I’ve got plenty to do.”

Bridges with a slight lead

Looking at the bigger picture, Bridges is believed to have a slight edge, although the extent of that is disputed by some and he appears short of a majority on the first ballot, which means anything could still happen as candidates drop out.

His camp has a sense they are close to the 29 votes needed for victory, but Adams is believed to be behind by only a vote or two.

With National’s progressive voting system, which sees the lowest vote-getter dropout and a new round undertaken if a majority of 29 votes is not reached, it is impossible to predict the outcome yet.

The belated entry of Mitchell and Joyce into the race last week led to a few days of contemplation as National MPs took stock, before activity revved up again by the end of the week.

Collins’ challenge looks likely to fail, but her campaign aimed at the grassroots members and the wider public seems set to be rewarded, albeit not with the leadership with MPs taking note of her ability to take on the mantle of opposition.

She was in a typically combative mood when appearing on the AM Show this morning, describing reports she only had one other backer other than herself as “a load of bollocks”.

“I have a good dollop of support and I’m really pleased with it. I think we can get through tomorrow [on] the second ballot…in our progressive voting system, you just don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Mitchell also told the show that he did not have the numbers to win outright, but claimed Collins was “almost ready to come over” and back him, possibly as deputy.

Yesterday, Stuff‘s Stacey Kirk also pegged Bridges and Adams as the frontrunners and suggested the former had been whispering that Joyce will be loosening his grip on the party, whether he likes it or not.

Sam Sachdeva is Newsroom's national affairs editor, covering foreign affairs and trade, housing, and other issues of national significance.

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