Tauranga MP Simon Bridges says he is ready to step up to lead the National Party and is gunning to be Prime Minister.
Bridges told the Bay of Plenty Times he had had time to "take a breather" during coalition negotiations in September last year and enjoyed more family time.
He and wife Natalie welcomed their first daughter Jemima Alicja Ruth Bridges in December last year.
Now, despite earlier quashing ideas to stand as leader, Bridges says he is ready for the challenge.
"I feel very blessed to have had a great summer with my family, the best. But I am ready to step up now. I have talked with Natalie, and we are up for this."
Bridges entered politics in 2008 after being selected as the party's candidate for the Tauranga electorate.
The Tauranga MP had since put his hand up to be the next leader of Opposition after Bill English stood down on February 13.
The leadership will be decided by vote of the party's 56-strong caucus today. "I am very excited about this, it is a tremendous opportunity to make a difference if I am leader of the party," he said.
"I feel good about the level of support I have, but I am not counting my chickens. I can't take anything for granted."
About to board a flight to Wellington from Tauranga ahead of voting, Bridges admitted there were a bit of "pre-contest nerves".
"There is a lot at stake having the chance to lead New Zealand's biggest, most successful political party and have a crack at running New Zealand after the next election," he said.
And becoming Prime Minister was "certainly the aim" for Bridges.
If his bid to lead the National Party was successful, Bridges said it would be a "win-win" for Tauranga as a local MP.
"It will put a spotlight on our city and the issues that we are experiencing," Bridges said.
Those issues included the city's strong growth, housing needs and transport infrastructure.
Bridges believed he was the man to stand against current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
"I think Jacinda is a nice person but is running a weak government that is treading water. I think New Zealand deserves better."
If appointed National's new leader, Bridges picked former Deputy Prime Minister Paula Bennett as his party deputy.
"I could work with her, I think she has got a lot of life left," he said.
The five-way race for the National Party leadership includes Bridges, Amy Adams, Judith Collins, Mark Mitchell and Steven Joyce.
After two weeks' lobbying, Bridges is said to be still well ahead in the contest. But Amy Adams could still beat him if she picks up more support when Judith Collins, Mark Mitchell and Steven Joyce, as expected, drop off the ballot in today's progressive vote.
Voting will continue in rounds, with the lowest-scoring candidate dropping off, until a candidate reaches 29 votes out of a caucus of 56 to replace English.
A separate deputy leadership vote will occur soon after the leadership vote - which is likely to be a woman if Bridges wins and a man if Adams wins.
However, if Bridges wins, Judith Collins could put her name forward as deputy, and it is a secret ballot, so there are no guarantees of who would win.
Neither the Bridges nor Adams camps are contemplating a loss and the possibility of becoming deputy leader to the other.
Additional reporting NZME
Spotlight issues if Bridges' wins:
- City's strong growth
- Housing needs
- Transport infrastructure