LATEST POLLS: Coalition 53% (down one), Labor 47% (up one).
Kevin Rudd enters the final fortnight of the campaign badly placed in the polls and dependant on a scare campaign, some new policies and the remote hope of a big Abbott mistake to get him back in the race.
The task confronting the prime minister is much greater than that facing the opposition leader.
Tony Abbott has to keep his campaign on track. He has already a solid lead. The Labor rot has not been stopped in the western Sydney marginals, according to the polls, nor has Queensland shown the move in Rudd’s direction that Labor had expected would come.
There is a good deal to suggest exhausted voters are over this election. How many are still listening as Rudd tries to reverse the tide?
Rudd’s themes in the days ahead will be jobs, education and health. He will continue his attacks on where he alleges Abbott will cut and on the highly controversial Liberal paid parental leave scheme, which has bitten its champion.
As he started the final fortnight, Rudd said in a statement: “I will use every remaining day to campaign on what has always been the number one priority for this Labor government – jobs”.
“And I will hammer home the fact that Tony Abbott’s plans for $70 billion in spending cuts is a direct threat to jobs”.
“My number one priority for the next 12 days and the next three years is Australian jobs as the China mining boom ends.”
In a campaign in which Abbott has repeatedly said Rudd thinks it is all about him, Rudd said “It is more than my job that is at stake on September 7”.
Rudd also has some new policies to try to tempt voters in these last days.
In face of the Syria crisis, Rudd defaulted to a more “prime ministerial” posture, calling ministers together and focusing attention on foreign policy.
But mixed messages about whether he was suspending campaigning (he wasn’t) just produced another problem. And even though people acknowledge Rudd’s international credentials, to be seen to be attending to foreign policy is unlikely to be a vote changer.
To add to the pressures on him, Rudd suddenly has a serious problem in his own backyard. Polling is showing that he is under threat in his seat of Griffith from Liberal candidate Bill Glasson. Rudd’s on a healthy 8.5%, but he really needs to do some gardening at home.
While Rudd’s challenge is to gain votes, Abbott’s task is to avoid losing them.
At his launch, his emphasis was on trust - he is seeking to project as a safe pair of hands when you can’t trust Labor.
Abbott said in his speech “I will spend the next two weeks reassuring people that there is a better way”.
Note the word, “Reassuring”. The Liberals' research tells them people want to get rid of Labor but need to be sure a Liberal government will be better – that things will be okay if they change their vote. They are looking for an “adult” government, a word the Coalition is using over and over.
It’s a back to the future message – to Howard’s time, to not having politics in your face every day. John Howard might have lost the 2007 election, but he’s a party icon, remembered by the faithful only for his successes. Abbott highlights that his team includes 16 former Howard ministers.
According to the Liberals, the “cut, cut, cut” issue is not top of voters concerns. If that’s true, it’s more bad news for Rudd.
Nevertheless, the costings issue remains Abbott’s main problem still to be met. This includes the cost of his paid parental leave scheme - his signature policy - and the total cost of his whole program.
The PPL plan has always been an albatross, but it has become more politically difficult for Abbott than was earlier anticipated, with Labor being able to play on the fears of retirees about their franking credits.
The day of judgment on total costings won’t come for the opposition until next week - very late in the campaign. It is a risk, but one so anticipated that the opposition would be worse than negligent if the figures did not stack up.
Abbott has ticked off another milestone of the campaign, with a launch that went off without any negatives. Rudd has left his launch until next Sunday, which is very late - too late to inject much momentum, but carrying the danger that any misfire could be a setback.
This week both leaders face another “people’s forum”. Rudd needs to smash Abbott; Abbott has to avoid any disaster.
As the leaders prepare for their final effort, it’s clear that Labor’s faith in its presidential campaign has been misplaced. Too much has rested on the shoulders of Rudd, who (so far) has not proved strong enough to carry the weight.
Abbott keeps telling his team about the importance of being “match ready”. The Liberal campaign has so far looked much more “match ready” than its Labor counterpart.