Of the stories circulating about Kevin Rudd, the boyish, bookish
head of Australia's Labor Party and the man tipped to become the
next prime minister, one of the most popular concerns a party back
in 1996, around the time when Mr. Rudd was trying to break into
"There was a barbecue, with people standing around, talking about
rugby. Kevin comes along and chirps up with something about how
interesting it will be when China engages in world trade," says
Nicholas Stuart, a Canberra journalist whose unauthorized biography
of the politician was published in June. "All of a sudden, people
discovered their glasses needed refilling. He had that ability to
clear a room."
Since then, China has engaged in world trade and Rudd managed to
make his way onto the federal political scene. Both have been
resounding successes - and now the former diplomat (who speaks
fluent Mandarin) is poised to unseat Australia's second-longest-
serving leader. And on the international stage, he may have already
outshone him: At the recent APEC summit in Sydney, Howard stood by
as Rudd chatted comfortably in Chinese with President Hu Jintao.
A Rudd government may substantially alter Australia's relations
with the rest of the world. Polls show that Australian federal
elections, due to be held within weeks, will give voice to an
electorate that has grown disenchanted with Prime Minister John
Howard's staunch support for the war in Iraq, his slowness in acting
on climate change, and the tough new industrial relations reforms he
By contrast, since becoming Labor's leader last December, Rudd
has pledged to withdraw Australia's numerically small, but
politically significant, contingent of troops from Iraq. And he has
promised to sign the Kyoto Protocol on global warming, an action
that would leave the United States even more isolated among
developed countries in its refusal to ratify the treaty.
Where once he looked unassailable, Prime Minister Howard's grip
on power now looks increasingly frail.
Howard may yet manage to rally his troops, but many Australians
are preparing for a Rudd government by Christmas. An election date
has yet to be announced, but it will almost certainly be called
before early December.
The latest opinion poll this week gives Labor a 55 to 45 percent
lead over the government. It also showed that Rudd's personal
approval rating had risen to 67 percent, while Howard's remains
steady at 50 percent.
Howard has delivered more than a decade of economic prosperity to
Australia, but many voters have become bored with him. He's been
appearing on their evening television screens since 1996. He is 68,
and recently became a grandfather. To some commentators, he has the
air of yesterday's man.
Is Australia ready for Kevin?
Part of Rudd's appeal lies in his novelty. He is 50, but looks
younger. His round face, spectacles, and shock of silver hair have
earned him the nicknames Harry Potter, Tintin, and the Milky Bar
Kid. For his deep Christian faith and devotion to family values, the
father of three has been dubbed St. Kevin.
Nor has he escaped the sharp-tongued wit of Australia's best
known cross-dressing comedian. "Do we want a prime minister who
looks like a dentist?" Dame Edna Everage, aka comedian Barry
Humphries, asked of the Labor leader in a recent stage show. "Is
Australia ready for a leader named Kevin?"
Even as his popularity improves, Rudd is nevertheless seen as a
bit of a nerd. Nevertheless, on the advice of his closest
confidantes, Rudd has worked hard to shed his image as a brainy