Play to your own strengths and your opponent's weaknesses. Mark Latham was doing just that today. The only time he deviated from his script extolling the virtues of his party's Medicare proposals was to raise again the question of the Prime Minister's future. Mr Latham told a radio interviewer that he was a 43 year old in the prime of his life who was in Parliament for the long haul.
"I'm giving the Australian people the guarantee (that) Mr Howard won't, that I'll serve a full term," he said. "I'm there for the long haul fight against terrorism, to build up our health and education systems. He's cutting and running into retirement. The biggest risk, the biggest choke, the biggest wobble you get in this campaign is the prospect of Peter Costello smirking his way into the Lodge, because that's what they're setting up on the other side of politics."
All the research I saw during my times associated with running Labor Party election campaigns was that the prospect of a leader standing down for some one else in his party was a distinct negative and I am sure that is the case this time. If voters think that a vote for John Howard is actually a vote for Peter Costello rather than John Howard then they are far more likely to vote for Mark Latham instead. Expect many more references to a vote for Howard actually being a vote for Costello as the campaign enters its last week.
Anyone who thought I was wrong in writing (18 August, 2004 - Lie Detectors Would Decimate the Ranks) that the lies of politicians will not be an issue in this campaign should get hold of a copy of the Australian Readers Digest. That venerable journal did a survey of the attitude of its readers to telling untruths and virtually no one could say they were honest in a whole range of situations. Let me repeat. Porkies and people just go together.