Simon Bridges is making a smart move by running for deputy prime minister - but he's probably the wrong gender to get the job.
That's the view of some of New Zealand's top political academics, who say a female deputy fits better with a male prime minister.
Mr Bridges, 40, is battling Paula Bennett, 47, for the deputy spot. Bill English was confirmed as the next prime minister last night after Jonathan Coleman and Judith Collins pulled out of the race. Meanwhile, Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller was also attempting to move up the pecking order.
The sense among commentators yesterday was that Mr Bridges had made steady progress as a politician and had a reasonable chance of securing the deputy's job. However, Ms Bennett had the advantage of providing a female foil to an inevitably male prime minister.
Massey University associate professor Grant Duncan said Mr Bridges' battle with Ms Bennett would be close, but National MPs in marginal seats would be focused on choosing a deputy who would perform well in the next election because John Key's departure meant their jobs were at risk. Ms Bennett might be seen as having broader appeal, with her gender playing a part.
"She does that whole 'Westie chick' thing," Dr Duncan said. "She's lippy and street-smart."
Dr Duncan said that a possible defeat would do Mr Bridges little harm.
"My impression is that he's a tough dude and would take it on the chin," Dr Duncan said of Mr Bridges. "He would've had a crack and had some public exposure and gotten his colleagues thinking about him."
Auckland University professor Raymond Miller said Mr Bridges and Ms Bennett had much in common, including being Maori and being relatively young.
Mr Bridges was highly-regarded as a Cabinet minister and held rural appeal, but Ms Bennett's gender gave her an edge as it would be desirable to have a woman in a senior position.
Dr Miller agreed that Mr Bridges could gain from the experience even if he lost to Ms Bennett.
"He's not widely known around New Zealand and this is a way of getting his name out there and being seen as someone who might be a leader."
Otago University associate professor Janine Hayward agreed the candidates had little to lose. She felt that the race was close and would come down to who had forged the best relationships with their colleagues.
Any loss would "just show that they are ambitious and that the timing is not right".
Mr Bridges had earlier said he did not believe gender would be a factor, as "paint by numbers" diversity was undesirable.
He pledged to provide "change and rejuvenation" if he were to win the deputy's job.