With just over 24 hours to go no candidate has yet claimed enough votes to win the National leadership ballot tomorrow.
The consequence is that the contest has become a battle for the second preferences.
And that means that the positions of deputy leader and Finance spokesperson are now in play.
Adding up what multiple sources told POLITIK last night it looks as though Simon Bridges and Amy Adams have around 17 – 23 votes each.
But they need 29 to win.
And that is where the second preferences come in.
There are at least ten votes — possibly as many as over 20 split between the three “minor” candidates.
Many of those votes are believed to be tactical votes with those casting them knowing their first choice will be dropped out, but the voters are using their vote to send a message to Caucus about who they want as deputy.
At the same time two of the “minor” candidates — Steven Joyce and Judith Collins — are both making a play for Finance Spokesperson.
Joyce, would be more likely to hold that post if Adams wins; Collins would be more likely but not guaranteed if Bridges wins because Jonathan Coleman is also putting his hand up for Finance and he is believed to be a Bridges supporter.
Coleman was expected to run for the leadership but did not.
Joyce appears to have picked up some support as the contest has unfolded.
But POLITIK has spoken to MPs who say they have not been approached by him which suggests is a tactical candidacy.
Collins also appears to be resigned to not winning but looking to become deputy or Finance spokesperson.
She may be benefitting from her widespread support from within the party
and the pressure that is putting on MPs.
There are also suggestions the Adams campaign has stalled though her supporters deny this.
If support has ebbed away from Adams, it has probably gone to Mitchell.
Meanwhile, there are suggestions Bridges las lost some support to Collins. and from Bridges to Collins.
Bridges has been indicating that he might support Paula Bennett – so far, the only announced candidate — for his deputy.
She is a polarising figure within the caucus, and it may be that some of his support has left him because of this and instead is saying they will vote for Collins on the first ballot with the intention of propelling her into the deputy leadership if she gets enough support on the first round.
However, the most logical deputy scenario is one where whoever is second in the leadership ballot, presumably either Bridges or Adams, takes the role.
This is a very untypical National Party leadership contest.
A measure of that difference is that the “year” groups of MPs have apparently now all met with the candidates; that is the groups who were all elected in the same year.
Those meetings have not produced a firm recommendation on who the MPs would vote for as happened during the November 2016 vote when the “Class of 2014” agreed to vote for Bill English even though they had flirted with alternatives.
But sources say that the meetings this year have not produced any firm answers. In effect, the MPs will be on their own.
About all that is known is that Mark Mitchell has had some success attracting new MPs.
But, again, these may be tactical votes intended to push a particular deputy or Finance spokesperson.
It is widely assumed that Mitchell will use his new-found power to move further up the Caucus hierarchy towards the front bench,
The fact that there is not yet a clear front-runner has raised some niggling worries in the background.
Though the contest has lacked the acrimony seen in some of Labour’s recent contests, it has, nevertheless, highlighted divisions within the National caucus, particularly between conservatives and liberals.
There is also the question of the ultimate fate of Steven Joyce if he does not become Finance spokesperson.
Anything else would be a humiliation and could raise questions about whether he was committed to staying in Parliament.
Increasingly the outcome of this election is looking like it may presage the beginning of big change for National with substantial overhaul not just of its front bench but policies as well.