Local MPs Simon Bridges and Todd Muller will step into the ring to fight for the National leadership today - but which one are local people backing? Sam Motion and Sandra Conchie find out.
In the blue corner will be Tauranga MP and National Party leader Simon Bridges.
In the other blue corner, will be Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller, who will challenge Bridges for the leadership after a series of opinion polls showed National flagging.
Last night's One News/Colmar Brunton poll produced the party's lowest number since 2003 - 29 per cent - as Labour hit a record high of 59 per cent.
The poll, taken between Saturday and Wednesday, showed Bridges' preferred Prime Minister rating falling to 5 per cent, against Jacinda Ardern's 63 per cent. Muller was on 0.2 per cent and Nikki Kaye, understood to be his running mate, on 0.4 per cent.
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On the streets of Tauranga and Pāpāmoa yesterday, the mood of those spoken to by the Bay of Plenty Times was firmly in favour of change.
While quite a few said they did not know much about Muller, nearly all preferred him to Bridges, though there was also a fair bit of "anyone but Bridges" sentiment.
Many of those approached were less than impressed with Bridges' performance during the Covid-19 crisis.
"Who drives to Wellington?" asked Lynley Baker, a long-time National supporter from Pāpāmoa.
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A National supporter from Bellevue, who did not want to be named, said: "I don't like some of the socialist ideas the Labour Party has, but Simon did not read the mood of the country well and I think he has lost quite a few supporters."
Those who knew Muller, or about him, had a generally good impression him, but some did not have much to go on, even in his own electorate.
Robert and Elaine England had attended a few of Muller's public meetings.
Robert had a positive impression of Muller, but feared he had made his move for the leadership too soon.
Elaine gave the MP credit for actually answering questions, but preferred Bridges' deputy Paula Bennett for party leader overall.
"I don't mind Todd, but I'm not that impressed with Simon. He has a tendency to open his mouth before he gets his words right."
Cafe owner May Lau, who lives in Mount Maunganui, went as far to say she'd move to Pāpāmoa to be able to vote for Muller.
She ran Double Teaspoons in Papamoa Plaza, near Muller's electorate office, and said he visited once a fortnight or so.
"Right before the lockdown, he came in just to see how we were doing. He probably spent half an hour talking to me about the whole thing. He really cares about people and small businesses.
"I feel like he's a better leader than Simon Bridges. Because of his background, I think he can make the economy great again."
Bridges also made an impression on a local hospitality business recently. He posted a picture on Facebook of himself and his two sons ringing in level 2 with a feed from The Fat Brother, a Tauranga burger joint that opened just three days before the lockdown started.
Business owner Benoit Boussuge said he was grateful for the promotion, and for Bridges' support of a local business.
"I didn't serve him personally, but the staff member who did said some good things about him."
He was surprised, however, at some of the critical reactions when he shared Bridges' post on his business page - some said they would not support his business again.
"As with anything political there are ups and downs. I have no political side. If a man is happy with my product, I am happy with him."
The next generation of National supporters, on the other hand, had strong views on the leadership contest.
Local Young Nats Samuel Taylor and Louie Donovan backed Muller, while Ben Sokimi declined to reveal a preference.
Taylor was Muller's Youth MP last year and door-knocked for him at the previous election.
He said his mentor was "absolutely the right man" to take over the leadership.
"I am a big fan of Todd. He is passionate and dedicated to public service and to serving his community and New Zealand.
"He has all the right skills and abilities to not only lead the party but to lead this country under a National-led Government. He knows what is needed to help rehabilitate our country."
Taylor said Bridges had served his community, party and country well but, given the polls, needed to step aside.
Donovan respected both candidates and believed either could rally the support of the party, but personally preferred Muller.
"You just need to look at his CV. He has a depth of business experience, including at Zespri and Fonterra and he has also sat on a number of boards.
"That is not only beneficial in terms of connecting with the business and wider community, but it's essential for the country's economic recovery plans."
He said the polls showed it was time for a change of leader, and Muller could put the party in a winnable position come September.
Sokimi, a Youth MP for Bridges for eight months last year, would not say who he preferred for leader.
"What I will say is that Simon is an incredibly driven man. He is ambitious for the country and for every New Zealander. He has a clear vision for how he wants the country to be and what New Zealand needs to do to recover from the Covid-19 crisis."
Tauranga rich-lister and philanthropist Sir Paul Adams was a significant donor to both Bridges' and Muller's re-election campaigns in 2017.
Adams said he was not a National Party member but liked to support local MPs.
He knew both contenders, and said they were excellent politicians, but did not want to pick a favourite for the leadership.
"It is unfortunate the way this has all come about because of the popularity of the Prime Minister brought about by Covid-19.
"It's an unfortunate set of circumstances."
From a health perspective, Adams believed the Government had done a good job, but in his view, its decisions harmed the economy significantly more than necessary.
He predicted a "winter of discontent", and believed the economic damage would become more apparent in the lead-up to the election.
The effect would be a "rebalancing of support between Labour and National".
Both Muller and Bridges have been approached for comment.
Street view: In the National leadership contest, who do you prefer between Simon Bridges and Todd Muller, and why?
"I support the leadership challenge, it had to happen. If the National Party wants to salvage the election in a few months' time, the leader has to Todd and I hope he wins the vote."
- Allan Andrews, 70s, Tauranga central
"I'd put my money on Todd. Simon Bridges needs to be rolled. The way he has dealt with the Covid-19 crisis and attacked Jacinda Ardern the way he did, convinces me he's got to go."
- Moira Hewlett, 59, Brookfield
"I don't know much about Todd, but I prefer him over Simon any day. [Bridges] flip-flops too much. He is also too concerned about money and not about people's health and wellbeing. He has to go."
- Kristie Simmons, 36, Gate Pā
"I prefer Todd. Todd's a great guy. He's put 100 per cent into serving his electorate and stepped up when it matters. He has a good understanding of business and finances and he's across the issues that matter. He will make a great leader. Simon is too negative. Anyone can beat people down but unless they have alternative ideas it's not helpful or constructive."
- Bob Tulloch, Mount Maunganui
"Simon clearly has to go and I like Todd. He's your man. Look at what he has done for Tauranga and Mount Maunganui in terms of industry, development and increasing investment and employment in the area."
- Aimee Elliott, 42, Katikati
"Neither really. Probably Todd, I think Simon's irresponsible. Who drives to Wellington? I have always been a huge National supporter.
- Lynley Baker, 48, Pāpāmoa
"The writing has been on the wall for Simon for a while. The problem is National doesn't have a good replacement. Judith is too divisive, and Todd doesn't have a high-enough profile, but he does have that charisma. Simon hasn't got what it takes and he has had enough opportunities to show the cut of his cloth."
- Cheryl Paddy, Pāpāmoa East
"Not Simon Bridges, that's for sure. I just don't think he has a practical view on things and I don't feel he's that sincere in what he says. He doesn't instil me with confidence. Todd - I don't know a lot about him."
- Noeline Ballantyne, 61, Pāpāmoa
Choose your fighter
Bridges, a former senior Crown prosecutor, was elected as MP of Tauranga in 2008 after the predecessor, Bob Clarkson, stepped down.
He won the party leadership in a contest in 2018. In the previous National-led Government, he held ministerial portfolios including transport, economic development, energy, communications, and was a Leader of the House.
He is married to Natalie with three children and lives in Matua.
Muller has a business background, with senior roles in Zespri, Apata and Fonterra. He took over as Bay of Plenty MP when Tony Ryall stepped down in 2014.
Under the previous Government, he chaired the foreign affairs, defence and trade select committees. In Opposition he was previously spokesman for climate change and is currently spokesman for agriculture, biosecurity, food safety and forestry.
He is married to Michelle with three children and lives in Pyes Pa.