There may be as many as 15 undecided or undeclared votes out of the 56 MPs in National’s caucus leadership contest..
One caucus source, close to one of the leadership campaigns last night told POLITIK that that was how fragmented the race was.
However, a range of sources say that at the moment Simon Bridges and Amy Adams are ahead.
But Judith Collins says she has been gathering support with her campaign designed to encourage party members to pressure their MPs to support her.
Meanwhile, Steven Joyce and Mark Mitchell are both refusing to rule out running.
This confused state of affairs may increase pressure from the party hierarchy for the contenders to come to a deal before the caucus ballot on February 27.
Steven Joyce could play a key role in that – either as a contender or as a facilitator because he is a favourite of the party organisation who argue that National did not lose significant support at the last election when its vote fell by 2.6% to 44.5% and that therefore there is no need to radically change the policies of the last Government.
But opinion within the caucus over his future is divided. Two of the leadership candidates — Bridges and Collins — are said to be less likely to keep him as finance spokesperson.
There also appears to be a feeling among some within the caucus as well as the party hierarchy that it would not be wise to “lose Steven”. Adams may share that view.
“There is a range of things that will bear on my decision, and the obvious one is what my colleagues think, and I am talking with them at the moment,” Joyce told POLITIK.
“They are talking to supporters and people who have an interest.
“But I’m hearing from quite a few of those people as well.”
Mitchell is thought to have only a handful of supporters and is widely believed to be putting a stake in the ground for future contests as well as seeking to gain some leverage to move himself up the Opposition pecking order to the top ten.
He has links to the Adams campaign with one of the former “Four Amigos” (of which he was a member) — Chris Bishop – having publicly endorsed Adams and another, Todd Muller, thought to be supporting her.
That may indicate who might benefit if he drops out early in the preferential voting system the caucus plans to use.
The wild card is Judith Collins.
Her campaign is targeted at the party rank and file who are likely to see her as a Muldoon-like figure ready to confront Jacinda Ardern head to head.
By all accounts, MPs are getting pressure from their local membership on her behalf.
She has also had a large amount of media support.
“I feel very positive,” she told POLITIK last night.
“i am very buoyed by the reactions that I am getting from my colleagues and the very sensible and considered messages and phone calls that I am having with them.
“I am also getting great feedback from the public, particularly National Party supporters.”
Collins needs time for her campaign to work. She could easily be pre-empted if the front runners were to do some sort of deal this week and present caucus with a package which had unbeatable numbers.
On the other hand, time could be Simon Bridges’ enemy as caucus members balance his charisma against some negative aspects of his political persona. He has been criticised within the caucus for being a polarising figure; some say he is arrogant.
But he has a back story that could become highly relevant in future years, and he is the candidate most ostentatiously promising generational change.
Amy Adams, on the other hand, is in many ways an unknown.
She has strong credentials within the party and has tended to make her mark at the kind of closed functions that National likes to have in board rooms or with law firms’ clients.
But last night she was buoyant.
“I am feeling very positive about the discussion I’m having with my colleagues and the response I have been getting,” she told POLITIK.
The party’s MPs will be back in Wellington on Tuesday and that night and Wednesday night could be crucial as they attempt to hold face to face meetings with small groups of MPs, often linked by the year they entered Parliament.
But the candidates may also start talking to each other.
With the numbers as close as they appear to be, the pressure to do a deal rather than rely on the uncertainty of the caucus room will be high.