So close ... but for a percentage point or two, John Key and National would have achieved the seemingly impossible last night and been able to govern alone.
The Prime Minister may rue his tactical mistakes in giving Winston Peters both a profile and a platform during the election campaign.
It does not really matter that much. The bottom-line is power - and National can comfortably govern with Act's John Banks and United Future's Peter Dunne.
Key can also almost certainly rely on the Maori Party backing him and his colleagues for another term if only because the centre-left is a long way short of being able to form any kind of viable Government.
The centre-left has been handed an old-fashioned hiding - one that may take more than one election from which to recover. Labour racked up its worst result since 1928, although special votes may change that.
The party has been slaughtered in provincial New Zealand. The Greens took heart from hitting their target of 10 per cent of the vote. But they must be disappointed.
The trouncing is a huge personal triumph for Key. His victory, in terms of share of the vote, betters National's landslide wins of 1990 and 1975.
Those victories were achieved from Opposition, however. Key did it while sitting on the Government benches - a much more difficult proposition.
Last night's result might have been even more emphatic had New Zealand First and the Conservative Party - the surprise of the night - not drained away votes from National.
The election is also a triumph for Winston Peters, who was written off until the latter part of the campaign when support for his party began to rise in the New Zealand Herald-DigiPoll.
Peters is destined to spend the next three years sitting in self-imposed Opposition. Key's biggest fear - that he might have to come to some arrangement with NZ First - has not been realised.
The result is a huge vote of confidence in Key. But it comes with heightened expectations from the electorate. Those will only increase the pressure on Key and National to start delivering, most notably on economic growth.
Key has been given a huge mandate - especially for those asset sales and welfare reform. But will he now make the most of it?