Labour leadership contender David Cunliffe says the party cannot risk a "false start" by choosing the wrong leader in the contest.
He's taken aim at his rival David Shearer's lack of experience, saying that while his opponent might be ready for the job later, he himself is "ready now".
The MPs in the leadership race fronted up to about 400 party members in a central city church in Wellington last night - the halfway point of their six-stop tour of the country's main centres.
Mr Shearer has used the "fresh face" line to head his own campaign, but yesterday Mr Cunliffe countered by playing on his experience.
On his way in, Mr Cunliffe said Mr Shearer was newer to Parliament, while he had more experience in the House and was a good communicator.
"I am ready now. I have a hard head and I can communicate. I'm experienced in Parliament, I've been a minister and sat on the front bench. I'm ready to go and I don't think Labour can afford to have a false start."
Mr Cunliffe said although there was an initial rush of favourable attention about his rival, he believed people were reflecting on the pair differently as the debates in media and the road show had gone on. "People are reflecting on who's ready now and who might be ready later. It's very, very close and could go either way."
Mr Shearer would not say what he believed his rival's weaknesses were, but said the party had to look different and be ready to change. He believed he was the person to do that.
"It's not that we're ashamed or embarrassed about our past, we're proud of it. But we need to move forward and I represent that face of moving forward."
He said it was for others to decide whether he was more likable than Mr Cunliffe. "But I hope I would be liked. If I didn't I'd be a pretty disastrous politician."
Mr Shearer was "quietly confident" about his chances, "but a week is a long time in politics. We have to earn the respect and support of our colleagues. There's a whole bunch of people in the middle who are yet to make up their minds, so it's not over till it's over".
Although only caucus members vote in the contest, both contenders said the roadshow meetings had reinvigorated interest in Labour.
Mr Shearer said the contest was "a beacon of hope and of renewal" and the members had packed the hall. Mr Cunliffe said people were joining the party at the door.
Both contenders refused to pick the weak points of their rival. Mr Cunliffe said he had already promised Mr Shearer a front bench seat if he won the contest.
Both are still wooing about eight undecided members of Labour's 34-strong caucus to ensure they have the support they need next Tuesday.
Mr Cunliffe's campaign was bolstered yesterday by a blog from media trainer Brian Edwards, who said he had changed his mind and now believed Mr Cunliffe was the better man for the job.
In his blog, Dr Edwards said he believed Labour was about to make "a huge mistake" if it chose Mr Shearer, a nice man who came across as unpretentious and natural.
Dr Edwards had originally believed Mr Shearer was the right man to be the next leader. However, he said Mr Shearer had failed to impress in his television appearances so far, which "have bordered on embarrassing".
While it was possible Mr Shearer would be the leader in the future, "making his run too soon will do nothing for his prospects".