As the National Party well knows, being the most popular doesn't guarantee victory. There is continued resentment that last year's election delivered National by far the highest vote (44.5 per cent), but it wasn't enough to be elected. Similarly, there's a very good chance that Simon Bridges initially has the most support in the National caucus to be leader, but Amy Adams might well win the prize.

With some similarities to coalition formation under MMP, a candidate needs to win 50 per cent of the vote. In the case of National's leadership race, the caucus will hold progressive rounds of voting, with the weakest candidate dropping out on each round, until there is a candidate with enough votes.

Commentary on Adams gathering second-preference votes

Today there are plenty of articles that proclaim what has really been the case since the start of this contest – that it's a two-horse race between Bridges and Adams. They all emphasise that Bridges has the highest number of first preferences amongst his colleagues. He reportedly has strong and concentrated support - perhaps as many as 27 votes. The problem is, he has essentially turned out to be a polarising candidate and may struggle to pick up second preferences. That could deny him the chance to be leader.

In contrast, Adams has less initial support than Bridges, but might be able to pick up the support of caucus members whose first preference is for Steven Joyce, Judith Collins, or Mark Mitchell. See, for example, Audrey Young's Simon Bridges ahead all the way but still not assured of success in National leadership race.

Today, Richard Harman of Politik says: "Adding up what multiple sources told Politik last night it looks as though Simon Bridges and Amy Adams have around 17 – 23 votes each. But they need 29 to win. And that is where the second preferences come in. There are at least ten votes – possibly as many as over 20 split between the three 'minor' candidates" – see: National MPs angling for Deputy or Finance.

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Newshub's Lloyd Burr has also been busy trying to gauge the current vote numbers, and yesterday said: "Simon Bridges has around 23 votes, while Amy ADAMS is up there too with 22 MPs supporting her. In third place is Steven Joyce with five votes, then it's newbie Mark Mitchell with four votes and in last place is Judith Collins, with two votes – one is her own" – see: National Party leadership battle settles into two-horse race.

An earlier report from Burr also attempted to name all the candidates' supporters, with Adams supposedly having some important backers, such as Bill English and Paula Bennett – see: Dissecting National's leadership camps.

And for more on how many of the factions could be effectively ganging up on Bridges to prevent his victory, see Audrey Young's Paula Bennett may have big influence over outcome of National leadership contest. Even the current deputy, Paula Bennett, might be willing to help put Adams into the top spot, despite an Adams victory making it unlikely that she could retain the deputy position.

Chris Trotter has also written about how Adams might win by appealing to Steven Joyce, Mark Mitchell, and their supporters – see: National's moderates may win this leadership battle – but can they win the war?. In this he argues that Adams will be horse-trading for influence: ""The pressure is, therefore, on Adams to accede quickly to Joyce's and Mitchell's demands, so that, having pocketed their votes, she can commence the deal-making required to deflate Bridge's numbers. This is the point at which Bridges would be well advised to secure what he can from his position (a place in Adam's "Kitchen Cabinet", perhaps?) by magnanimously marching as many of his followers as possible into her camp and, figuratively, crowning her National's Queen before the smoke of battle has had time to clear."

The "Compromise candidate"

Photo / Mark Mitchell
Photo / Mark Mitchell

Amy Adams isn't only the "compromise candidate" in terms of winning those second preference votes – it's essentially her whole political strategy. She has positioned herself as a politician "in the middle" who doesn't take ideological or policy stances that might alienate supporters. Unlike Simon Bridges – and Judith Collins, as an extreme example – she can appeal to the widest possible number of voters in the National caucus, as well as the wider population.

Being bold and brave is not always a successful political strategy. Sometimes it's better not to ruffle too many feathers, and instead unite different pools of possible support. Hence, in his commentary on the leadership race, Toby Manhire often refers to Adams as the "compromise candidate" – see, for example, The unstoppable ticking sound begins for Bill English and Paula Bennett.

In another column, Who will replace Bill English? The contenders for next National leader, power ranked, Manhire ranks Adams as the second most likely winner, and describers her this way: "The compromise candidate. The continuity candidate. The – gulp – Phil Goff candidate? A consistent and respected politician, with the added advantage of an always funny name confusion with an award winning Hollywood actor."

For Matthew Hooton, Adams is a mixture of continuity and change. Whereas Collins, and to some extent Bridges, represent more of a shakeup of the party, and Steven Joyce and Mark Mitchell represent business as usual, Adams is somewhere in the middle. And in Hooton's latest NBR column he forecasts a "compromise leadership team to emerge after a deal this weekend or a fourth ballot on Tuesday" – see: Nats risk picking a Goff as leader (paywalled).

Hooton says National MPs generally listen to the instructions of the "Old Guard" in the party, and this makes a compromise option likely. However, he warns this outcome might not be the best way ahead: "Instead of a decisive result, however, expect a compromise leadership team to emerge after a deal this weekend or a fourth ballot on Tuesday. As with Labour's Phil Goff after 2008, the new leader will have no independent mandate and will remain hostage to the previous top team. A necessary civil war will ensue. It will continue until the remnants of Mr Key's old guard finally accept it is time for them to leave the field."

A recent Herald editorial also pointed Adams out to be a compromise candidate, saying along with Joyce, "as high ranking ministers in the previous Government, [they] represent continuity" – see: National has too many contenders for comfort.

The newspaper adds: "Under Adams the party might make more compromises with the Government's direction."

Jason Walls sums up Adams' approach: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it… but feel free to tinker with it a bit" – see: Does Amy Adams have what it takes to lead her party into the 2020 election?. He quotes Adams, herself, saying how changes would look under her leadership: "It's not going to be a ground up, overturning of what we have done because I have been very proud of what we have done over the last nine years." And Walls adds: "she won't say what changes she plans to make. Any changes she does make, however, won't be very dramatic".

Endorsements and evaluations of Adams

The strongest media endorsement for Amy Adams so far has come from Newstalk ZB's Kate Hawkesby: "I like the strong silent type. The hard worker, shunning spotlight opportunities for the spotlight's sake, considering her thoughts before spewing them out, and actually doing the hard grind. If you want to put style to one side and go with substance, she's your woman. She has the credentials. She's a straight bat. Image-wise she's a slow burner, a nerd. But nerds are good. She'll get there. She seems the most decent, and the least there for self-interest purposes" – see: Amy Adams the clear frontrunner.

Claire Trevett has outlined Adams' positive political attributes like this: "A steady hand with brains and a measured approach. Was one of former PM John Key's favourites. Impressive in her ministerial portfolios" – see: Pros and cons: Who will be National's next leader?.

National-aligned commentator Gwynn Compton says this about Adams: she "has a strong grasp of policy and a well respected record during her tenure as a Minister. ADAMS also kept her powder dry during the post-Key leadership contest" – see: Previewing 2018: National. He also says that, "With her background and links to rural New Zealand, Adams offers an opportunity for National to go after New Zealand First in provincial New Zealand."

Longtime observer of New Zealand politics, Rob Hosking wrote late last year that Adams would be a good pick for leader because: "Adams would be the least divisive internally, and would make an intriguing counterpoint to prime minister designate Jacinda Ardern: less prone to indulge in high flown fluff, more no-nonsense, matter of fact in style" – see: National needs to be a 'practical and sceptical' opposition.

About the same time, Henry Cooke surveyed the potential leaders, saying that "Adams has been quietly achieving for years and has a warm personality that swing voters might love, while her rural roots could keep the base happy" – see: If Bill English goes, these people are his likely replacements.

It's Amy Adams' potential for winning over "middle New Zealand" that will be making her an attractive option for many National MPs. And they will be very aware of the UMR poll published by The Spinoff, which showed the public was generally more favourable to Adams than her rivals – see Toby Manhire's Poll gives Judith Collins slim lead as preferred National leader.

Although in this poll, both the general public and National voters showed more support for the likes of Judith Collins and Steven Joyce as leaders, the unfavourable ratings for those candidates were very high, whereas Adams scored very well. You can also see these figures in full in David Farrar's UMR poll on National leadership candidates.

Similarly, see Horizon's poll, which showed Adams is a particularly popular choice for non-National voters: National MPs face difficult leadership choices.

Finally, for some satire about Amy Adams and the other leadership candidates, see Toby & Toby's The rival pitches for the National leadership, digested, Andrew Gunn's The Mostly-Famous Five go up in a trial balloon, and Steve Braunias' Secret Diary of the National Party Leadership race, and Secret diary of Cyclone Gita.