National's new leader Todd Muller laughed off today the idea he had been campaigning for the party's top seat longer than claimed, calling the suggestion "a great conspiracy theory".
Simon Bridges was rolled as leader on Friday, but with such a low profile - ranked 16 on National's list under the previous leader -questions about how long Mr Muller had been pushing for the spot have been raised in recent day.
This morning, though, Mr Muller defended his position when questioned by John Campbell on TVNZ1's Breakfast over his extensive travel in recent months - second only to the former leader within National.
"You've been campaigning since February, haven't you?" Campbell asked.
"No, I haven't, and look, this is a great conspiracy theory, John," he responded.
"My previous Job for the National Party was the agriculture spokesperson and prior to that was climate change so I travelled around the country having a significant number of farmer meetings and talking and listening to rural New Zealand to hear firsthand their concerns."
He also said accounting of some of his travel was brought forward from the previous year.
When asked if he met with MP Amy Adams - who recently reversed on her decision to retire from the party just days after Mr Muller took leadership, and is now third on National's list - he denied meeting with her or Gerry Brownlee, who is sixth in National's ranks, in Christchurch during his trips.
"From your perspective, I can see where you're trying to go here," Mr Muller told Campbell.
"That somehow this has been a process that I've been working on for months - that's not the case, actually. The National Party for the last few weeks, the whole country, has been in lockdown."
Before becoming leader, though, Mr Muller had been an MP for just six years. In a 1 NEWS story last week, people on the street were showed photographs of Mr Muller and most had no idea who he was.
"How did you become leader? Why you, Todd?" Campbell asked.
"I think I have the ability to be able to relate to people and, along with [new deputy leader] Nikki Kaye and the wider team, be able to put the case very strongly over the next three months that we have the best economic recovery plan for New Zealand.
"We had a discussion over the last week, obviously culminating on Friday when the caucus decided that we needed a new leadership team, to be able to sell the message and hope and policy and framework of the National Party over the next three months.
"That's my job and the team's job, and I'm delighted I've got such a talented caucus to be able to focus on what is becoming the singular issue I think in this country, which is who has the best economic recovery plan to take us out of what is a catastrophe," he said of Covid-19.