"Impossible scenario": Kevin Rudd. Photo: Andrew Meares
The election will probably be ''devastating'' for the ALP but it might also allow MPs to draw a line under the three-year Kevin Rudd/Julia Gillard rivalry which has ''eaten the party from the inside'', according to a senior Labor figure.
The MP said while the party faced an ''impossible scenario'' after the unpopular minority parliament and the years of open warfare between the two camps, the new danger was the potential for bitter post-election internal recriminations over whom to blame.
However, he said if there was a silver lining to be found in the storm clouds of defeat, it was in the possibility that voters might resolve some of the party's internal tensions for it.
Privately some Labor MPs concede the best thing for the party, given the scale of the repudiation coming, would be for Mr Rudd to lose his Brisbane seat of Griffith as happened to John Howard in 2007. Mr Howard's initial shock, and that of his party, quickly gave way to a sense of relief in Liberal ranks that the hard work of generational change had been largely done by voters.
Depending on the severity of Saturday's result, one or more of the leadership options to whom the party might normally consider turning might simply not be there.
Labor got 50.1 per cent of the vote in 2010, which was not enough to secure the necessary majority in the House of Representatives. That means it must secure a swing to it from its 2010 result to lift its representation from the current 71 seats to the required majority of 76.
Polls suggest that is not going to happen - the outcome more likely to be 53/47 in favour of the Coalition.
With a swing to the ALP unlikely, interest has turned to the scale and geographic shape of any swing away, which may narrow the leadership field within a reduced caucus.
MPs are already weighing up who might provide the best chance of uniting a riven party and repairing its damaged brand-name.
Another complication is the rule change Mr Rudd recently forced through to ensure Labor's parliamentary leader cannot be rolled by faction bosses once elected.
Insiders say this means the parliamentary party will be especially careful to select someone it can live with all the way to the next election.
Among the possible leadership contenders after the election, assuming the government is replaced, are Education and Workplace Relations Minister Bill Shorten, Treasurer Chris Bowen and Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese.
Other names bandied about, perhaps for deputy, are Health Minister Tanya Plibersek, Immigration Minister Tony Burke, Home Affairs Minister Jason Clare and Climate Change Minister Mark Butler.
One name not being mentioned is Kevin Rudd. Nor is there any leadership speculation about former treasurer and deputy prime minister Wayne Swan.
A month ago, the surprise re-entry to politics of former Queensland premier Peter Beattie started tongues wagging over the possibility of a Beattie leadership tilt. However, such has been the disaster of Labor's campaign that he is unlikely to take the LNP seat of Forde despite its margin of less than 2 per cent.