Deputy PM: Paula Bennett last standing after Simon Bridges quits the race
Simon Bridges has dropped out of the race to be the country's next Deputy Prime Minister, paving the way for Paula Bennett.
Mr Bridges made the announcement at Britomart in Auckland on Saturday morning.
It means Ms Bennett is almost certain to be elected National's new deputy leader on Monday without any opposition. She already had more than twice as many MPs publicly backing her for the role than Mr Bridges, 23 to 10.
"While my numbers were good, they weren't good enough," he told reporters. "In truth, it was never about me. It was about having a contest and ensuring that great ideas were talked about."
Current Deputy Prime Minister Bill English is expected to take on the top job, with his opponents Jonathan Coleman and Judith Collins dropping out of the race during the week.
"With Bill English we have someone with undoubted strengths, stability, huge experience and acumen that he's going to bring to his role," said Mr Bridges, who went on to praise his former rival.
"She is a massive talent. She has huge strengths, and is one of if not the best communicator in our Government, in fact in our Parliament."
During his resignation speech on Monday, outgoing Prime Minister John Key recommended Mr English as his successor - but he hasn't revealed his preference for the Deputy role. Mr English has also not publicly expressed a preference, but praised both Ms Bennett and Mr Bridges after the latter pulled out of the race.
"[Ms Bennett] is an outstanding politician whose work on welfare reform is world-leading. I am proud to have a smart, energetic woman as New Zealand's second only female Deputy Prime Minister.
"I want to thank Simon Bridges as a constructive and energetic candidate for the deputy leadership. He too is an outstanding politician and I look forward to working with him in the leadership team."
As recently as Friday, Mr Bridges was talking up his chances of defeating Ms Bennett.
"It's gonna be a tough contest but a fair one," he told Newshub. "I think it's close. I take nothing for granted. But you know, I'm feeling pretty good about things."
The 40-year-old Transport Minister said his youth and energy would complement Mr English's steady hand and experience.
"As a Gen-Xer, I'm someone who represents the upper North Island, both cities and provincial New Zealand, and that's important."
While Ms Bennett, 47, said her attributes - being from the city and a woman - would best complement Mr English's farming roots.
"It's nice having a man and a woman up there," she told Paul Henry on Friday.
"I think the Auckland city aspect of it comes in, and that's important. We have exactly the same message, but I say it completely differently."
Ms Bennett in all likelihood will become Deputy Prime Minister on Monday, the same time Mr English will be sworn in as the country's 39th Prime Minister.