He power walks every day. Sometime reporters struggle to keep up with him. But when it comes to the opinion polls, John Howard is trailing.
Two days from Australia’s general election, the conservative prime minister is fighting for political survival. And a scandal over fake flyers has done nothing to help.
Supporters of the premier have been blamed for bogus leaflets linking the opposition Labor Party to Muslim extremists.
“Now I had nothing to do with this, you know that,
and the Labor Party knows that,” Howard said in an interview.
“I had nothing to do with this and as soon as I heard about it, I condemned it.”
Labor’s Kevin Rudd is the frontrunner in Saturday’s poll.
The Mandarin-speaking former diplomat has won support with his campaign for a new generation of leadership.
He has promised to sign the Kyoto Protocol on climate change and to pull Australian frontline troops out of Iraq.
“I want Australia to be a leader in the global fight against poverty, disease and underdevelopment, starting right here in our own region, our own neighbourhood, our own backyard,” Rudd told supporters in Brisbane.
“And on Iraq, the time has come to implement an exit strategy for our combat forces.”
A committed Christian, Rudd has worked hard to build his image and profile. And not even revelations he had once visited a New York strip club – and was too drunk to remember any details – seem to have dented his chances of victory.