Tauranga residents were in disbelief after Bay of Plenty MP Todd Muller today announced he was stepping down as Leader of the Opposition - just 53 days after taking up the role.
But there has also been support for him making a decision that valued family and mental wellbeing over the high-powered and high-pressure job.
Muller quit as the National Party's leader today, 67 days before the general election, for health reasons. However, he says he plans to remain an MP.
"The role has taken a heavy toll on me personally, and on my family, and this has become untenable from a health perspective," he said in a statement.
"It has become clear to me that I am not the best person to be Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the New Zealand National Party at this critical time for New Zealand."
An emergency caucus meeting is being held in Wellington tonight to begin the process of replacing Muller as leader.
National Tauranga MP and former leader Simon Bridges tweeted a message of support to Muller and his family.
"Opposition Leader is a very tough role and I wish Todd and his family the best for the future."
My thoughts are with Todd Muller & his family. Opposition Leader is a very tough role & I wish Todd and his family the best for the future.— Simon Bridges (@simonjbridges) July 14, 2020
An emergency caucus meeting on May 22 to determine the party's leadership resulted in Bridges and former deputy leader Paula Bennett losing their positions.
Speaking to media at Wellington airport today, Bridges said Muller's announcement was "really sad".
Todd Muller gives first speech at home as leader
Bay of Plenty business and community leaders ready for alert level 1
He said he was also thinking about "what a tough time it is for the National Party".
He said there were some difficult discussions to be had and ignored the question when asked if he would put his name forward for the leadership.
When pressed on this question, Bridges said: "These are discussions we need to have... at a difficult time".
Tauranga locals approached by NZME were shocked by the announcement.
Cafe owner May Lau, who lives in Mount Maunganui, was still getting her head around the announcement, and said it could affect how she voted.
She ran Double Teaspoons in Pāpāmoa Plaza, near Muller's electorate office, and said he was a nice guy who came in often over the past four years.
Lau said she would continue to support him and agreed that if the decision was due to his health, he had "definitely" made the right decision.
Family friend of Muller, Mary Webster, said the news was sad, but she trusted he had made the right decision for himself and his family.
"Being Prime Minister was his dream job. We just hope that Todd and his family are being looked after."
She said Muller thought carefully about what he said and did, he had made the right decision; "he doesn't do things lightly".
As a Bay of Plenty electorate, "we need to support Todd at this stage," Webster said.
Joyann Moore said while the announcement took her by surprise, she empathised with the decision.
"I can totally understand how mentally it would get to you and I think it's really cool that he's putting his family before his job."
Moore said he may get slammed for the short time he served as party leader but "he's sussed out quite quickly it's not his cup of tea".
Moore said regardless of who the National leader was, she believed current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern had this year's election in the bag.
Pāpāmoa local Glennis Crook said she was not surprised but thought it was a good move before his health was impacted further down the track.
"You could see he wasn't comfortable."
Kullen Bidois said while he did not closely follow politics, stepping down was a sign of good leader if it was because he realised he was "not cut out for it".
Rosalie Simmonds hoped former National leader Simon Bridges would take the reins again.
"He's my favourite."
National Party candidate for the East Coast Tania Tapsell said the announcement came as a "surprise".
She said he had his reasons and it was good he could be around family at this time.
She said the party had a strong team and was unsure who should be the next leader.
Muller's former Youth MP Samuel Taylor was shocked, and said the announcement was "a real shame".
"Todd presented an exciting opportunity for New Zealand and a strong National-led Government.
"It's a shame because he's a talented politician, and fundamentally a good man, and a man of integrity."
He said the role was a "pretty tough go" for any political leader in New Zealand in the current climate.
Taylor said while there were some "exciting" leader prospects, he was still coming to terms with the announcement.
Tauranga philanthropist Sir Paul Adams was "extremely disappointed" by the news.
"Todd would have made a good Prime Minister," Adams said.
"I respect him for making whatever decision he feels is right for him but I'm extremely disappointed he's made that call."
He said Muller had a "baptism of fire" and said the call may have been made while keeping his family's wellbeing in mind, saying Muller was a "real family man".
He believed Muller would still have a strong career in politics.
Adams was a significant donor to both Bridges' and Muller's re-election campaigns in 2017.
Tommy Wilson, who helped to organise Muller's first speech in the Bay since he had become the leader of the Opposition, said he was quietly pleased that Muller had put his family first and politics second.
"Sometimes we have to take the pōtae (hat) of politics off and put on the korowai of care and that means looking after your own family first, or yourself.
"Without those two things in place, you are no good to anyone. I admire him for taking this stance."
Muller had the wellbeing of the community at the front of everything he did, Wilson believed, which was why he hoped Muller would stay on as the local MP.
Wilson said he would get the same tautoko (support) from his community in Te Puna because he was "one of our sons".
"He is an asset to our whole community so I hope he still has an involvement in it whether it is politics or as one of our kingpins.
"We've benefitted as Tauranga, with the decision that he has made."
Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell said Muller was a strong MP, well-liked and respected locally, and it was sad to see him leave his role.
"He had a tough inauguration into the leadership role and that has obviously taken its toll.
"Politics is a bruising game."
Powell said he looked forward to working with him as the Bay of Plenty MP.
List MP Angie Warren-Clark said her thoughts were with Muller and his family and "I hope my friend is okay".
"I sent him a message of support as soon as I heard of his resignation."
Muller's full statement:
Todd Muller resigns as Leader of the Opposition
I have taken time over the weekend to reflect on my experience over the last several weeks as Leader of the Opposition.
It has become clear to me that I am not the best person to be Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the New Zealand National Party at this critical time for New Zealand.
It is more important than ever that the New Zealand National Party has a leader who is comfortable in the role.
The role has taken a heavy toll on me personally, and on my family, and this has become untenable from a health perspective.
For that reason I will be stepping down as Leader effective immediately.
I intend to take some time out of the spotlight to spend with family and restore my energy before reconnecting with my community.
I look forward to continuing to serve as a loyal member of the National Party team and Member of Parliament for Bay of Plenty.
What does a political communication specialist say?
University of Waikato political science lecturer Dr Justin Phillips said having a leader of a party step down in the middle of an election could lead to turmoil and dis-unification.
Phillips who specialises in political communication, said the main part of a campaign was to have a coherent message, and while it was not unusual to have a leader step down with weeks to go, the decision could be problematic.
"For one there is no direction right now and that is obviously problematic cause if you don't know what you stand for then the electorate doesn't."
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern gained the leadership of the Labour Party with just 49 days to go, after Andrew Little stood down.
On the topic of the ramifications of Muller's decision to the party being elected, Phillips said firstly, "I'm out of the prediction business" following the last election in the United States.
However he said elections could be lost in a leadership battle but they could also be won.
"In politics, when we have multiple weeks before an election, that's a long, long time.
"One way this could turn around, for example, is scandals could erupt in the Labour Party or issues could come up surrounding Covid.
"In other words there is plenty of time for things to turn around but things need to go very well for the National Party to gain power."