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Countdown begins for top job candidates

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 6/12/2016 Peter Wilson and Karen Sweeney

© Mark Tantrum/Getty Images The three contenders for Prime Minister John Key's job are lobbying for support and running the numbers as the countdown to Monday's caucus election begins.

Late on Tuesday Finance Minister Bill English, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman and Police Minister Judith Collins had confirmed they wanted the top job.

Social Housing Minister Paula Bennett was assessing her chances and could still join the race.

Mr English has been publicly endorsed by Mr Key, four ministers and one backbencher.

But there are 59 MPs in National's caucus, and most of them were keeping quiet about how they would vote.

Having two opponents in the field could help Mr English, because the votes of those who don't want him will be split between Dr Coleman and Ms Collins.

The contenders have already started selling themselves through the media.

Mr English is brushing off his record as party leader in opposition - in 2002 he led National to its worst-ever election defeat.

"You learn as much from losing as you do from winning," he said.

"I've worked closely with the prime minister, learnt an awful lot in those 15 years and I think it's partly because of that experience I can see the opportunities ahead."

Dr Coleman is presenting himself as a tried and tested candidate, saying his experience as a doctor, a businessman and a minister has taught him what New Zealanders want and how to deliver it.

Ms Collins says New Zealand needs a decision-maker who can lead National to victory in next year's election, and she's the one who can do it.

In other developments:

* Justice Minister Amy Adams and Transport Minister Simon Bridges ruled themselves out of running for the leadership, with Mr Bridges suggesting he might try for deputy

* Dr Coleman told Newshub funding for health and education was more important than tax cuts

* A Fairfax-Neilsen opinion poll conducted just hours after Mr Key's resignation speech showed Mr English was clear favourite

* Mr English insisted that having Mr Key's backing and being deputy prime minister wouldn't give him an advantage over the others

* Opposition party leaders used a snap debate in parliament to deride Mr Key's track record - and in turn were accused by government ministers of "a tirade of bitterness" and "nasty garbage".

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