A former National Party leader who got the job in a coup says Todd Muller has it within him to beat Jacinda Ardern in September.
Muller challenged incumbent Simon Bridges in a caucus vote on Friday and won, taking the reins after just six years in Parliament.
Dame Jenny Shipley waited 10 years to make her move, rolling Jim Bolger in 1997. She instantly became Prime Minister and led the country for two years before losing the 1999 election to Helen Clark and Labour.
She said the current Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern shouldn't think reelection will be a cakewalk, despite the polls putting her and Labour way, way out in front after successfully preventing a widespread outbreak of COVID-19 in New Zealand.
"I think the Prime Minister's worked outstandingly well over this crisis," Dame Jenny told Newshub Nation.
"But by the time we get to an election, that's not the question. I was very popular... but I lost an election because people had moved on and we're looking for different things."
She said she's known Muller for "many, many years", and told him when he was younger to "go and see the world and get some victories and some bruises" before trying politics for himself.
"I do think that Todd has the capability. He's international. He's well-connected."
Asked if his low profile would hurt his chances, just a few months before the election, Dame Jenny said so too was Ardern when she took the reins of the Labour Party in 2017.
Ardern is now polling in the 60s as preferred Prime Minister (Newshub-Reid Research) and in the 80s for approval (TVNZ-Colmar Brunton).
"This is a very high point for our current Prime Minister, but we are looking at a different nation in August and September, July, August, September," said Dame Jenny.
"It's tight, but I am picking at that. It will be much closer than some of the commentators are saying right now. I think the public have been waiting for something fresh. Let's give it a chance."