Until recently, it seemed that Judith Collins would offer little threat to Jacinda Ardern and Labour.
Yes, she would be a greater threat than Todd Muller. But Collins was not making the most of her sudden elevation to the National leadership.
She was diluting her brand of strong leadership by allowing her deputy almost equal billing.
Conspiracies and sloganeering prevailed. There was little that was new in her response to Covid-19.
She said she had zero tolerance for Covid-19, as though it were a virus that could be disciplined out of its misbehaviour.
And most important, she appeared to have no particular narrative of why her lot should replace the other lot at the election.
But the past 12 days since community transmission re-emerged have changed that and Collins has stabilised her wobbly start.
Zero tolerance for incursions of Covid-19 was meaningless until there was one, and Auckland was shut down.
The delayed election campaign will become a contest of expectations.
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From mid-July, Ardern has been trying to convince New Zealanders that another outbreak was inevitable.
Collins has been trying to convince people that any new outbreak was preventable and therefore a failure of Government.
It is not hard to see who has the upper hand when you are in lockdown again and it is clear that the Ministry of Health had not implemented the Government's testing strategy of border-facing staff.
Ardern has a good sense of when the public needs displays of leadership and yesterday was one of those days as she sought to retain the confidence in the processes with Auckland moving into its second weekend in lockdown level 3.
But the failures are undeniable even if they have not been categorically linked to the community cluster.
And they have given Collins the opportunity to stop sloganeering, to produce some uncompromising policy, look tough and present an alternative to the Government.
She no longer has to go back to the almost dry Kiwibuild well to find an example of a Government saying one thing and delivering another.
National's idea of a single border protection agency with clear lines of accountability seems preferable to the spider's web of accountability that operates at present among a myriad of Government agencies.
National's policy requiring a negative Covid-19 test within three days before boarding a plane to New Zealand has sparked unsurprising complaint from civil libertarians.
But like all parties' policy in the Covid-19 space, it is about reducing risk to the public of New Zealand, not eliminating it, and in a public health crisis individual rights are almost always subjugated to the public good.
If Health Minister Chris Hipkins had been less worried about the civil liberties of compelling border-facing staff to be tested weekly, the latest incursion just may have been picked up earlier.
When he took over the job two months ago, getting proper testing regimes in place was a publicly stated priority but he did not use the powers he had to make it so.
Certainly, he did not hesitate to use his powers to compel after the incursion was discovered.
The one good thing about the past 12 days is that while the deficiencies of the Ministry of Health to implement Government policy were again being laid bare – as they were over day three and day 12 testing of returnees - the response to the incursion has been impressive.
To his credit, Hipkins took responsibility for the latest failures from the start even if the ministry was to blame.
That is in contrast to his predecessor David Clark whose mistake was to publicly point the finger of blame at the Ministry of Health in the presence of its iconic head, Dr Ashley Bloomfield.
That hastened Clark's demise, given the zero tolerance for criticism of Bloomfield among the public.
Hipkins has clearly been nagging the ministry and Bloomfield for several months about getting testing rates of border staff up, in accordance with the Cabinet-approved testing strategy.
The response to the latest outbreak showed it was always possible even though Bloomfield's excuse is that it was "complex".
Bloomfield may be a good doctor and public health expert but that does not necessarily translate to being the best administrator who can make things happen.
There is no good reason for a ministry to ignore a testing strategy approved by Cabinet and produce its own variation of a strategy.
National and its surrogates have focused on the ministerial failures rather than Bloomfield's failures, which is natural enough.
Collins has feigned outrage that the Minister of Health had not read the ministry's strategy on testing.
But, as an experienced minister, she knows that the more basic question is why on earth the ministry produced a separate strategy in the first place rather than implementing the Government's policy.
That is what the public service is there for, to carry out Government policy.
In ordinary times, Bloomfield would have been called in by his employer, the State Services Commissioner, asked for a please explain and possibly been given a warning if he had not offered his resignation.
An ordinary public sector chief executive would have been mortified by what the Government did this week, inserting a small crack team to carry out the Government policy he has failed to implement.
They are no ordinary squad.
Heather Simpson was The Enforcer under Helen Clark's regime and knows the health sector intimately, having just reviewed it. Brian Roche got his knighthood for being a top trouble-shooter for many Governments over many years.
Whatever his failings, Bloomfield is untouchable. Such is the public's trust in the top health official who saw them through Covid-19 lockdown, that normal responses are put aside
His actions and inactions over the Covid-19 crisis may not be overtly political but he has the power to profoundly influence the political environment.
Collins may not yet be a serious threat to Ardern's chances of leading a second term Government but she is more relevant than she was a fortnight ago.