The NSW Liberal Party cannot move further to the right or inject division into the mainstream in an effort to regain popularity, senior Liberals say.
Having entered Saturday with a claim on 33 seats, the party on Sunday had a firm hold of 15 seats and faced a nervous wait in another 11 electorates.
It's also leaderless after outgoing premier Dominic Perrottet stepped down during his concession speech on Saturday night.
Early frontrunners for the leadership include Deputy Liberal Leader Matt Kean and Alister Henskens, who held several portfolios in the Perrottet ministry.
Mr Henskens didn't rule out running for the leadership on Sunday, saying he'd wait to discuss the party's future direction with a wide range of people.
"There are a whole lot of seats that are still undecided, I'm much more interested in scrutineering ... than talking about leadership," he told Sky News.
He pushed back over talk the party had been too focused on battling North Shore independents to cater to Western Sydney voters, saying many measures were aimed at cost-of-living pressures.
The "perfect storm" of retirements, unfavourable distributions and an "it's time" factor had undermined the government's future-focused campaign, he said.
But with six more seats likely to fall the Liberals' way and the Nationals on track for 11 seats, the election result was "not the 15-seat landslide of 2011", he said.
Labor ending up with 45 to 48 seats, in a parliament requiring 47 votes for a majority, would make for a very narrow parliament and a "hotly contested political environment", Mr Henskens said.
Mr Kean, meanwhile, pushed leadership talk aside on Saturday.
"I have seen how demanding the job is. Let me tell you, Dom has put everything into this," he said.
Senator Andrew Bragg said the party suffered heavy losses in Western Sydney and the regions but appeared to retain its heartland in inner Sydney and the North Shore.
"One of the most important lessons here is that we have to be a party that doesn't go to the margins and that doesn't seek to inject division into the mainstream," he told ABC radio on Sunday.
Asked about some right-wing commentators calling for the party to abandon the centre and go further to the right, Senator Bragg laughed.
"The numbers speak for themselves," he said.
"Obviously, we've lost a lot of seats to Labor and last time I looked Labor was a party of the centre-left."
Some of the most significant losses were in seats where the Liberal incumbent was retiring, including Health Minister Brad Hazzard's Wakehurst, former speaker Shelly Hancock's South Coast and Customer Services Minister Victor Dominello's Ryde.
Parramatta - in the heart of Sydney - underwent a 15 per cent swing to Lord Mayor Donna Davis, ending a 12-year Liberal reign.
Former deputy Liberal leader Stuart Ayres appears to have been felled by Labor's Karen McKeown, despite the party throwing significant resources and former prime minister John Howard at the outer western Sydney seat.
Willoughby - the northern Sydney former Liberal stronghold once held by ex-premier Gladys Berejiklian with a 21 per cent margin - hangs in the balance with independent Larissa Penn challenging Tim James.
Independent Jacqui Scruby has her neck in front of retiring minister Rob Stokes' Pittwater, too.
Australian Associated Press
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