Two weeks out from the September 7 election, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd needs a miracle. Somehow, he has to round up straying Labor voters, corral the undecided, and prise some loose from rival parties.

Rudd is navigating a well-known creek. The most dire of the polls predict not only that Labor will be hurled from office, but also that he will lose his Brisbane seat.

Rudd has conceded that if an election was held now, Opposition leader Tony Abbott would win, a fairly remarkable admission from a campaigning Prime Minister.

He could look to the past: Liberal John Hewson lost the "unlosable election" to Labor's Paul Keating in 1993, and former Liberal Prime Minister John Howard turned the polls around in the final stretch in 2001. But Labor has no looming GST to use as Keating did, nor a refugee crisis of the kind Howard employed to manipulate paranoia.


Rudd is making do with what he has: an opponent potentially vulnerable to accusations of a secret agenda that would reduce Australia to an economic wasteland while nourishing the rich. How many voters can be convinced remains to be seen.

Labor is facing a large "it's time" factor. After six years in power dominated by internal brawling and leadership coups, many voters have had enough.

At best, Rudd can only hope to appear as the lesser of two evils.

He could take some faint heart from polling, bad as it is. Although Newspoll paints a darker picture, the other polls show a relatively tight contest. The Coalition leads by an average of 52-48 per cent in the two party preferred vote that decides Australian elections, but a late, winning swing to Labor is not unthinkable.

Newspoll did have some good news for Rudd in Queensland. The Australian reported yesterday that his return to the leadership had so sharply lifted Labor support in the state that the Coalition could lose up to four seats in and around Brisbane. Labor's hopes in Queensland have also been spurred by a preference deal with north Queensland MP Bob Katter's Australian Party.

But Newspoll said those gains could wither in the face of swings to the Coalition in New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia that could deliver Abbott a winning 13 seats.

Polling in marginal seats has also been gloomy for Labor, with even Rudd facing personal defeat. But most of this has been by robo-polling using automated telephone interviews that has produced much larger swings than traditional polls. Its accuracy has yet to be proven.

Even taking the brightest view, Labor is in a deep hole. Its supporters have been shifting away. The ABC's Vote Compass reported that 48 per cent disagree with Labor's policy on asylum seekers, adding to a perception it has moved too far right.

Unions are no longer the Labor stalwarts of the past - almost half their members did not vote for the party at the last election - and Rudd faces deep disenchantment and disengagement among the young voters he has been cultivating. One quarter of those aged 18 to 24 have not registered to vote, and many more have shifted support to the Greens.

Rudd must bring back straying and wavering Laborites. He needs to win the large body of undecided voters and try to steal support from the fringes of other parties.

He must hammer home policy in the areas closest to voters' hearts. The most pressing is also the most difficult: the economy and cost of living.

Rudd can trot out reams of statistics to back Labor's record, but people are hurting and Abbott has been powerfully on message with his mantras on Government incompetence.

But Abbott has vulnerabilities that Labor is effectively using: the Coalition's new parental leave scheme, his refusal to release costings, and the spectres of a higher GST and a return to Howard's loathed WorkChoices industrial laws.

Labor also has natural advantages in other key areas, especially health and education. It has the new national disability insurance scheme and the national broadband network, much faster than the cut-price Opposition alternative.

But these messages are not enough. Rudd has now turned to attack politics designed to scare voters away from the Coalition. Abbott is portrayed as a cynical, uncaring slasher whose parental leave scheme is tailored to millionaires, and who refuses to detail costings because they would reveal his hidden agenda.

If this fails, Rudd has no bullets left.