Observing politics is, for me, a long distance occupation. My perspective comes from Tanunda in the Barossa Valley, Tuross and Eden on the NSW south coast and the very suburban Duffy in the ACT. It is many years since I have been inside Parliament House and Kevin Rudd is a man I have never met. My judgments are thus formed through the media in much the same way as most Australians.
Many times now I have heard the Opposition Leader talk of how close he expects this election to be with his references to winning 16 seats being a feat like climbing Everest. It seemed to me to be the sensible policy to follow for I am a believer in the theory of the underdog effect where voters end up turning away from a party the pollsters say will win easily.
I have heard as well the continued references by Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and occasionally by Prime Minister John Howard, to Mr Rudd saying something quite different in private to the caution he expresses in public. My inclination was to dismiss these comments as being in the category of “they would say that wouldn’t they” because playing the underdog against an arrogant front runner is virtually the only hope left for the Coalition in this election campaign.
And then at the weekend I was dragged for once into mainstream Canberra society to attend the birthday party of a long standing friend where a journalist of impeccable reputation, who does regularly meet the Labor Leader, gave me his insight into the Rudd character.
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Alexander Downer, it seems, tells the truth about the extreme confidence of the challenger. In private conversations there is little humility and a regular off-the-record quoting of optimistic internal party polling to anyone who dares to suggest Labor is not well on the way to victory.
I must say that these comments dented my confidence a little in the inevitability of John Howard being defeated. Stringing out this campaign for as long as possible just might provide time enough for people to begin questioning just what Kevin “Me Too” stands for. Every hint of over confidence by Labor will work in favour of the underdog.