WELLINGTON (AFP) - New Zealand Prime Minister Bill English on Friday (Sept 15) declared his election rival Jacinda Ardern's political honeymoon was over and said voters were now more concerned about "money in their pocket".
Ardern has enjoyed a spectacular rise since taking over the centre-left Labour Party last month, lifting its vote 20 percentage points to turn the Sept 23 election into a cliffhanger.
But recent polls have showed the 37-year-old's gains have stalled and English said voters were no longer enamoured with what he has called the "stardust" that initially appealed to the electorate.
English, who is seeking a record-equalling fourth term for the conservative National Party, said voters' minds were turning to more practical matters as the campaign enters its final week.
"I think the public are coming to that point where the interest in the Labour leadership change has gone," he told reporters on the hustings in Wellington.
"Now they're looking hard at what's going to work for them and what's going to put money in their pocket."
English has campaigned hard on his economic record, arguing his party guided New Zealand through the global financial crisis and has maintained strong growth.
He said that key Ardern policies such as free tertiary education would squander a budget surplus built up over years of financial restraint.
"Change... increasingly looks like quite a risk," he said.
Meanwhile, Ardern was campaigning in the South Island city of Dunedin and received a rock-star welcome at Otago University.
There was no sign the "Jacinda-mania" phenomenon was waning as students crowded onto balconies to hear her speak and held up posters portraying her as Star Wars' Princess Leia.
Labour has overwhelming support among young voters but Ardern told the students they had to get out and vote if they wanted action on issues such as climate change.
"The choice is clear, a Labour government committed to a better, fairer New Zealand - and one that takes seriously our environmental challenges - or drifting for three more years," she said.