Prominent Northland doctor Lance O'Sullivan is in talks with The Opportunities Party founder Gareth Morgan about signing up as the party's new leader.
It is understood O'Sullivan is seriously considering taking the role left vacant since after the election when Morgan stepped down as leader, as did his deputy leader, Geoff Simmons.
However, O'Sullivan's profile makes him hot property and National are also understood to be trying to recruit O'Sullivan for themselves.
O'Sullivan has met with National Party President Peter Goodfellow and is expected to meet with National leader Simon Bridges this week.
The doctor said after working in the health sector for twenty years he believed innovative change could only be driven politically.
O'Sullivan was a Maori Party supporter and initially intended standing for the Maori Party and seeking its leadership.
He ruled that out because he wanted to abandon the co-leadership model and be the sole leader, something it would be difficult to get the party's base to agree to.
He hoped to enter Parliament in 2020 but he had not yet made a decision on who that would be with.
He had met with representatives of political parties across the board – from the Greens to Act.
"I have been looking right across politics because I don't think I fit easily into any of the existing boxes – hence I have been having discussions with everyone, and probably will continue to do so for a while."
He is expected to move to Wellington with his family soon to concentrate on building a political career.
"I don't see myself as political in the party sense – I'm more about what is going to be the best way to achieve the change I see as necessary, so in that sense I am apolitical. However I do have strong views on how to improve social outcomes which may lead some to pigeonhole me politically."
Morgan does intend to keep TOP going to fight the 2020 election, although he no longer wishes to lead it. He bankrolled it to the tune of $2 million over the last year.
The final decision may come down to whether O'Sullivan and Morgan decide they can work together – both have strongly held views.
Morgan said he was talking to O'Sullivan as well as others.
"I've had a talk to him and certainly he ticks a number of boxes. His concern for the wellbeing of New Zealanders that get left behind, that resonates with me pretty strongly."
However, Morgan said he was politically inexperienced.
O'Sullivan's high profile could help TOP boost its vote from the 2.4 per cent result in the 2017 election to above the five per cent threshold needed to get into Parliament.
Morgan said his main concern was ensuring TOP's policies were promoted. "It's the one thing I'm not negotiable on. As to who does that, I don't really care." He expected to get a new team in place this year.
While National would be a more certain route to Parliament if he secured a high list placing, O'Sullivan's likely resistance to being forced to tow the party line in a large party could make TOP more palatable for him than National or Labour.
It also may be in National's interests to let O'Sullivan go with TOP rather than try to recruit him for themselves because it could deliver a potential government support partner for the future.
O'Sullivan's main focus is on health and he has some dramatic policy ideas. Those include cutting the health budget by getting efficiencies out of technology-based remote health services, such as the MaiHealth virtual medical centre which allows people in remote communities to connect to a clinic in his Kaitaia hometown to diagnosis minor conditions such as skin ailments by iPad.
The New Zealander of the Year in 2014 for his health services in remote communities, he is a staunch advocate of vaccinations and has proposed penalising beneficiaries who do not get their children vaccinated.
Last year he stormed the stage at the screening of anti-vaccination movie Vaxxed in Kaitaia, railing against it and saying it would result in babies dying.