National leadership contender, Simon Bridges, with daughter Gemma after some face painting at her birthday party on Saturday.

Simon Bridges and Christopher Luxon are said to be neck and neck in the contest for the National Party leadership.

It appears that Judith Collins and four of her supporters will vote for Luxon, and they are enough to give him the lead.

At this stage, the intention is that there will be a Caucus vote on Tuesday, but that may change if the numbers become locked in and the pair agree to do a deal.

Other possible contenders, including Mark Mitchell and Shane Reti, are said to be out of the race.

Sources close to Bridges concede that Luxon may have two or so more votes.

But there are a number of votes which are considered to be “soft” in that they could switch sides  as the vote gets nearer as they always do in a party leadership contest.

They could move Luxon’s lead out to four or shrink it altogether.

However, Luxon’s lead is believed to be dependent on Judith Collins and four of her caucus supporters; Andrew Bayley, David Bennet, Harete Hipango and Maureen Pugh.

There will be questions about what sort of deal Luxon might have done with Collins to get those votes.

There will be some in the party, and the Caucus, who will worry that this could preclude any option of excluding Collins from the Caucus the same way she excluded Muller.

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There were early signs that she does not intend to keep a low profile with her supporter, Cameron “Whaleoil” Slater running a blog from her on Saturday morning.

Luxon is also believed currently to have the support of the Caucus liberals, Nicola Willis and Christopher Bishop, and Willis has been promised the deputy leadership.

Bridges, on the other hand, is said to be ahead among the Auckland MPs. That would include the social conservatives, Chris Penk, Simon O’Connor and Simeon Brown.

The fact that the two contenders are so close should not be a surprise.

The consistent inability of either to get a conclusive majority within the Caucus has kept Judith Collins in the leadership.

National MPs have told POLITIK that they hoped the issue could be resolved before the party conference next year, but Collins’ actions on Wednesday night have precipitated an earlier leadership contest which neither candidate nor the Caucus was ready for.

Luxon’s failure, in fact, refusal to declare publicly whether he is a candidate is another issue.

There were reports on Saturday that Sir John Key was phoning MPs on his behalf, which were then retracted, but those close to the Caucus believe that Key’s support for Luxon will manifest itself one way or another.

Meanwhile, Judith Collins has been making herself heard.

The BFD website, a successor to Whaleoil, which was linked to Dirty Politics and Judith Collins, has run a blog by her.

In it, she offers her support to the farmer protest movement, Groundswell, which agriculture groups like Federated Farmers and DairyNZ are wary of.

And she reports her own sacking as National Leader.

“You will have seen that I am no longer the leader of the National Party,” she said.

“I feel very privileged to have been asked to take that role for the last 499 days.

“It has been a very difficult challenge because of a number of factors.

“I am pleased that I will now be able to spend more time with my electorate, my family and friends.”

What she does not say is that she is the first mainstream party leader to have a vote of no confidence passed in them in at least the last  80 years.

Her supporter, Cameron Slater, has spent the weekend running a social media campaign against Simon Bridges, even asking readers to vote on whether he should release recordings he has made of phone calls with Bridges.

(A majority voted “no”.)

Luxon is believed to be considering a ‘ticket” with Nicola Willis as his deputy.

Bridges, on the other hand, is said to be more in favour of a Bridge-Luxon or Luxon-Bridges ticket.

Supporters of Willis — including Sir John Key — will argue that she would bring a gender balance to the leadership, but she has her critics within the Caucus who are unwilling to forgive her for her role in promoting the Todd Muller leadership coup.

Senior figures within the party are talking about an alternative.

That would have either Luxon or Bridges as the leader with the loser as deputy and finance spokesperson.

That sort of proposal could well be the focus of any head to head negotiations the pair might engage in.

What the wiser heads within the party will be keen to avoid is a caucus vote which sees the Caucus more or less split in half.

And if the margin between Luxon and Bridges is made up of Collins and her supporters, that will be even less desirable.

That Bridges is even in the race 18 months after he was dumped as leader is remarkable. Initially, he seemed angry and bitter about his fate, but more recently, he seems to have tried to reinvent himself, particularly with his book, “National Identity”, which grapples with what he calls his “part Maori” identity.

Behind the scenes, he has recently apparently made some outreaches to some of those MPs who had been allies but who he believed betrayed him.

Christopher Luxon is a surprising National MP. Many on the left of politics thought that judging by his run as CEO of New Zealand and his willingness to work with unions and on environmental issues, he might be a potential Labour MP.

In 2016, launching his “Future of Work” manifesto, then Opposition MP, Grant Robertson, singled Luxon and Air New Zealand, which he said was a company with 70 per cent of its workforce in unions and which exemplified worker democracy.

But Luxon’s most valuable card is his endorsement by former Prime Minister Sir John Key.

In National, that can trump anything.