Special report: Two clear paths have emerged for the party as its members vote on a new co-leader - a safe pair of hands in Kevin Hague, or the broad appeal of the 'riskier' James Shaw.

The Green Party's choice of a new co-leader on Saturday will come down to two contenders - a sensible, safe pair of hands or a riskier, flashier newcomer who has the potential to lift the party's vote.

The contest to replace Russel Norman has developed into a two-horse race between the third-term MP Kevin Hague and the first-term MP James Shaw. With just a handful of local branches left to decide their vote, the contest appears to be close, with Mr Hague possibly holding a small lead.

Today on Mike's Minute - Russel Norman's replacement has a big job ahead of him, and I'm not sure the candidates are up to the job

Of the remaining candidates, Gareth Hughes is believed to be a distant third and outsider Vernon Tava is not in the picture.

In more than 40 meetings around the country over the past five weeks, they have been stating their case.

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Mr Hague and Mr Shaw are both highly intelligent, well-spoken candidates who represent the "new" Greens - economically savvy, business-friendly, with relatively broad appeal.

The early favourite, Mr Hague, is the safe choice. The Greymouth-based MP has centred his campaign on his experience - both his seven years in Parliament and his "real world" experience as head of a District Health Board. The huge demands of being a party leader have been understated in the leadership campaign, he says.

"Here's a reality check. Whoever is elected to this role, that person needs to come into the House next Tuesday, take on John Key and win. That's not something that someone just has a natural flair for, it's something that you win the ability to do through hard graft. I've done that graft."

As the caucus' strategic head, he has played a key role in the Greens' path to credibility. He has worked hard to downplay the zanier aspects and has banished anti-scientific policies such as opposition to 1080, fluoridation and immunisation.

Mr Hague is respected across the House and could bridge the gaps between his party and potential allies National and Labour.

He is known for his face-to-face negotiating skills and his ability to find common ground, as proven in his work with National MPs on same-sex marriage legislation, ACC, and changes to health and safety laws after the Pike River disaster.

He has a reputation for being level-headed and never raising his voice. But that does not mean he lacks mongrel. Some of his campaigns began with strong attacks on Government policy, followed by negotiation.

The big question is whether Mr Hague is capable of growing the Green vote. He does not offer a vastly different approach to Dr Norman, under whom the party reached but stalled at 11 per cent.

The Greens were widely seen to have run a strong election campaign last year, with good policies, high-profile endorsements, a highly organised team and the most advanced digital strategy. They raised more money than Labour and had more members and volunteers than before. Yet the party won a smaller proportion of the vote, fell well short of its goal of 15 per cent, and only just held on to its 14 MPs. On this evidence, the Greens may need to take a risk, change direction, and pick a candidate with the X factor.

This is where Mr Shaw comes in. He is 13 years younger than Mr Hague, charming, and moderate. One colleague described him as "Bill Clinton-esque".

"If we really want to grow the vote, the status quo isn't necessarily the biggest step," Mr Shaw says. "What I'm saying to people is that if we keep doing the same thing we've always done, we'll keep on getting what we've always got."

Mr Hague, on the other hand, says the Greens do not need to drastically change direction, because their election result was mostly influenced by factors outside their control - Labour's refusal to work with them, the Dirty Politics saga, and Kim Dotcom.

Mr Shaw's campaign has focused on his ability to lift the Green vote and his broad appeal. In his home electorate, Wellington Central, the Greens won 30 per cent of the vote. It was the only seat in which the Greens beat Labour in the party vote.

Mr Shaw has spent much of his energy in the leadership meetings trying to dispel two criticisms - that he is a National MP in disguise, and that he lacks experience. The first issue partly stems from his slick, business-friendly reputation, which comes from his past work in making mega-brands such as BP and Coca-Cola more sustainable and green. But it can mostly be blamed on National MPs and commentators who have goaded him, describing him as National-lite. It annoys him, he says, because it suggests that National "has a lock on every single business person".

He feels economic credibility is a key barrier to voting Green, and wants his party to develop an economic front bench of four or five MPs.

Mr Hague is sceptical of Mr Shaw's leadership credentials. He says the MP was only one part of the Greens' popularity in Wellington, and his recipe for success does not translate to South Auckland, suburban areas and provincial centres. Would he be at home speaking on a marae, to farmers or to trade unionists, Mr Hague asked, and could the wider population relate to a Wellington-based, metrosexual MP who doesn't drive?

Gareth Hughes is also based in Wellington, but promises to move to Auckland if elected co-leader to raise the Green vote there.

He has a strong record in Opposition on environment and ICT issues but has always been the underdog in the co-leadership race. This is possibly because, at 33, he is still seen as naive and without economic credibility. Mr Hughes is also uncompromising on environmental issues and is less likely to be able to work with Labour or National.

Mr Hughes says his youth is an advantage. He represents a new generation "who grew up with the internet, burdened with student loans and who are raising a family and struggling to get into their first house".

Vernon Tava, a Waitemata Local Board member, entered the race to encourage a debate about the future of the party. He argues the Green Party is not fundamentally a left-wing party but a sustainability party, and should not rule out any parties in forming a government.

Both Mr Shaw and Mr Hague have ruled out going into government with National. That means they depend on Labour's willingness to work with them to get into government - something that has historically proved difficult. It is crucial then that on Saturday the party's members elect someone who ensures the Green Party cannot be ignored.

The outsiders

Vernon Tava

• Age: 37
• Politics: Waitemata Local Board member, Green Party Auckland co-convener, Northcote candidate.
• Before politics: Solicitor at Auckland Community Law Centre.
• Lives: Auckland central.
• Leadership pitch: A return to Greens' core values: neither left nor right wing, able to work with all parties, and putting the environment back at the top of the agenda.

Gareth Hughes

• Age: 33
• Politics: List MP since 2010, ranked 5th on party list. Party whip and spokesman for energy, mining, ICT, science.
• Before politics: Greenpeace campaigner, cleaner, barman.
• Lives: Kelburn, Wellington.
• Leadership pitch: A generational shift and the strongest voice on environmental issues.

The risky choice

James Shaw
• Age: 42
• Politics: List MP since last year, ranked 12th on party list. Spokesman for economic development, justice, trade, small business.
• Before politics: Management consultant at PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) and other firms
• Lives: Aro Valley, Wellington.
• Leadership pitch: The best candidate to grow the Green vote and strengthen its economic credentials.

The safe choice

Kevin Hague
• Age: 55
• Politics: List MP since 2008, ranked 3rd on party list. Spokesman for ACC, health, housing, rainbow issues.
• Before politics: West Coast District Health Board CEO, Aids Foundation CEO
• Lives: Greymouth, West Coast.
• Leadership pitch: The most experienced candidate with the strongest record in Parliament.