Rudd lags behind rival for first time in poll

Rudd lags behind rival for first time in poll
Mr Abbott has used the campaign to soften his image and present himself as a calm, reliable pragmatist.

AUSTRALIA - Mr Kevin Rudd's campaign to win the Australian election on Saturday has been dealt a damaging blow after he fell behind opposition leader Tony Abbott as preferred prime minister for the first time in their four-year rivalry.

A survey published on Monday by Newspoll found Mr Abbott has a two percentage point lead - 43 to 41 per cent - over Mr Rudd as preferred prime minister, with 16 per cent uncommitted.

The poll marks a dramatic turnaround for Mr Rudd, one of the country's most popular prime ministers during his first term from 2007 to 2010.

Mr Abbott's conservative Liberal-National Coalition has stretched its lead against the ruling Labor party. The 54 per cent to 46 per cent lead is a margin which would produce a landslide victory for Mr Abbott if it continues to polling day.

A defiant Mr Rudd insisted on Monday that he could still win the election and that many voters had yet to make up their minds.

"Right across the country is a deep level of uncertainty and anxiety about Mr Abbott," he told a press conference in Gladstone, Queensland.

"Sure, the government has had its challenges, I concede that. But the bottom line is that people are scratching their heads wondering, and I believe worrying, about Mr Abbott's ability to manage a A$1.5 trillion (S$1.7 trillion) economy."

Mr Rudd, 55, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat, was restored as party leader in June.

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