Mike Kelly at Queanbeyan Leagues Club. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
JUST hundreds of votes stood between ex-army lawyer Mike Kelly and his ability to hold the seat and break a 40-year run of history on Saturday night.
The bellwether electorate of Eden-Monaro has fallen to the incoming government since 1972 and Dr Kelly was holding back the surging Liberal tide in his own seat - but only just.
As of 9.20pm he held 50.8 per cent of the two-party preferred vote, well within the swing against his party in other seats, but thousands of postal votes needed to be counted.
''We won't know the result tonight,'' Dr Kelly said, while Liberal adversary Peter Hendy said it was ''too close to call''.
Dr Kelly said he could claim a great campaign.
''We couldn't have worked harder,'' he said, while saying the national result was disappointing.
After seeing the first results he said his eyes were firmly planted on a polling booth in the seachangers' haven of Batemans Bay - and he said the signs there were positive.
''The secret of this seat is where the votes are coming from,'' Dr Kelly said.
''We're a nose in front at the Batemans Bay booth at the moment, which means, I think, I'll either fall just in front or just behind at the end of the night.''
While four decades of history were on the line in Eden-Monaro, it was surprising that each of the main candidates started the day with just a small bowl of cereal.
Incumbent Labor MP and one-time warlord hunter Dr Kelly was defending his seat against Liberal challenger and ex-senior Howard government staffer Peter Hendy.
Dr Kelly, 53, has been a high-profile local member with pulling power in the most populous booths in the electorate at Queanbeyan, just across the border from Canberra, which has enabled him to win the past two elections and only 3500 two-party preferred votes separated him from the Liberals in 2010.
Perhaps because of the size of the defence community in Queanbeyan, the former army lawyer has easily defaulted to stories of how he once had a price on his head after wrestling a Somalian warlord to the ground in the early 1990s so the criminal could later be executed - and fighting off a baying mob in the process.
In the past few weeks he has been trying to fight off another mob banging at the door, this time made up of voters across Australia calling for Labor's demise.
One advantage for Dr Kelly at this election was Tony Abbott's pledge to cut 12,000 public service jobs, compared with Kevin Rudd's reduction of 800 senior bureaucrats.
In the words of an Eden-Monaro voter, public servant and father of two, Jason Johnson, on Saturday: ''The part that's frustrating is the Canberra-bashing. When they get rid of 12,000 public servants there's not the outrage compared to the loss of 1000 car manufacturing jobs.''
After starting at 5am on Saturday with two Weet-Bix and a coffee, Dr Kelly said he was upbeat about the vibe he was getting at the polling booths and, like Mr Rudd, seemed to be relying on the power of undecided voters.
''Because of the early votes we'll have a good idea on Saturday night,'' Dr Kelly said.
Liberal Eden-Monaro candidate Peter Hendy, 51, says he started the day normally - with a bowl of cereal and by walking his dog Fluffy. Son Patrick, 15, helped him hand out how-to-vote cards.
''The mood's good but it's only anecdotal,'' Mr Hendy said.
While the sentiment might have indicated a national swing to the Liberals, it was a general mood of disenchantment.
Chris Maxfield, 53, said: ''Although we're due for a change, I don't like the change. I voted Liberal at the last election but I voted Labor today.''
The Liberals made few Eden-Monaro spending announcements during the campaign.
The Liberals' traditionally strong support in Eden was threatened when Labor promised a $10 million port upgrade for the struggling town to bring in cruise liners.
But the Liberals matched the promise in an announcement last week.
Dr Kelly, on the other hand, was able to brag about $329 million of Labor spending and pledges for health facilities.
He has been criticised, however, by some voters for concentrating spending and lobbying efforts on tourism and not on industries such as farming, fishing and logging.