NEW England MP Barnaby Joyce has slammed his own party over its handling of the Eden-Monaro by-election campaign.
Speaking in Tamworth on Monday morning, Mr Joyce said the Nationals had "botched" the campaign after NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro and NSW Transport Minister Andrew Constance both decided to step out of the running for the federal seat.
Both men were eager to contest the seat after Labor MP Mike Kelly resigned last month due to ill health.
Mr Barilaro was the first to step out of the race, allowing Liberal MP Mr Constance to contest the seat.
However, Mr Constance pulled out of the running 24 hours later, citing a smear from the Deputy Premier as the reason.
Mr Joyce said the issue had left the Coalition without two strong candidates for the seat.
"Our job in politics is to win seats and it is the only way you stay in government," Mr Joyce told the Leader.
"We had the chance to win that seat - I firmly believe that - and I believe we still do.
"And we botched it.
"In one day two excellent candidates were lost and you can't do that."
Mr Joyce said the Nationals should examine the reasons why both candidates left the race.
"So I would say to those in [the] organisation of the party, what went wrong?," he said.
"You've got to make sure you give us the best candidate, on behalf of the National Party, on behalf of the Coalition and on behalf of democracy.
"You don't want to go into an election where one side says 'this is a walk in the park' because the other side hasn't turned up."
The turmoil regarding the by-election has prompted Port Macquarie Nationals MP Leslie Williams to call for the Deputy Premier to resign from his role.
However, Mr Joyce said he didn't share those views and backed Mr Barilaro.
"It's so easy to sink in the slipper when someone is down and that's not the way most Australians work," he said.
"People bring it to your attention if you've stuffed up, but the Australian people will also forgive you for stuffing up and tell you to get on with your job."
Mr Joyce said while he believed the Coalition could still win the seat, the race was still up in the air.
"John Barilaro would have won," he said.
"Andrew Constance, I believe would have won.
"Jim Molan I don't know, it's a bit hard with a smaller constituency but now, who have we got?"