The National Party leadership contenders

By Ruth Berry

Following the resignation of Don Brash today, the National Party faces choosing a new leader to challenge Labour.

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JOHN KEY

The 45-year-old Helensville MP has made no secret of his leadership ambitions, but is only in his second term and has seen the pitfalls inherent in assuming the mantle with limited political experience. Consistently ranked second in the preferred prime ministerial stakes for National, he's seen as the forerunner in any race. A Herald-Digipoll yesterday showed 17.3 per cent of Aucklanders favoured Mr Key as Prime Minister, only 1.5 points behind Dr Brash. Helen Clark was on 52 per cent. However, no one person is believed to yet be able to claim the support of the majority of the caucus. The boy who grew up in a state house and became a multi-millionaire is down-to-earth with an infectious enthusiasm and charisma. Unlike Brash, he loves the cut and thrust of the House. He's more centrist than Brash on a range of issues, but is largely inexperienced in matters of state outside the finance sphere. This would worry the caucus.

BILL ENGLISH

The former National leader was ousted - just - after a highly unusual public bid by Dr Brash and took it badly at first. Has since re-emerged to play a pivotal role in the caucus, extending his influence and input in many directions including playing a key role in policy development, and the party's strategic engineroom. Has scored a number of hits in education and is one of the front bench's most effective attack weapons in the House when used for that purpose, which probably isn't enough. Like all the contenders is more centrist than Dr Brash and therefore more likely to appeal to the floating voters National needs to pick off Labour and the smaller parties to win. Feels uncomfortable about working on his public image, but needs to. A chance he'll calculate it's better to sit this one out.

GERRY BROWNLEE

The deputy leader battles public image problems which belie his strengths and would make a bid for the leadership unlikely to succeed. A pragmatic centrist despite his "hardman" stereotype, with a good sense of humour. Has been a loyal lieutenant to Dr Brash, earning new respect among colleagues as he works to help to shield the leader's weaknesses. That is particularly so in the House, where he is one of the more agile National MPs in the debates and where he has played a primary role in attacks on the Government, particularly on the election spending row. Has good political instincts and across-the-board grasp of issues which means he is regularly used to face the media.

SIMON POWER

Dubbed a potential leader as soon as he entered Parliament in 1999 when he was labelled National's golden boy. Has yet to prove he's leadership material, but could become a deputy. Has done the hard yards as one of the party whips up until the last election where he gained a good knowledge of the caucus and its MPs. Is tasked with keeping an eye on the new MPs, who make up half the caucus, ensuring he continues to know what's going on and has good networks. Worked hard as the law and order spokesman since the election. An MP who has quietly pushed for the party to modernise its image and take a more liberal stance on some fronts, his profile would grow if he was less cautious in articulating this.

* This analysis, updated today, was first in September this year.

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