The honeymoon is over. If Kevin Rudd is to be returned as prime minister on September 7, he has to win this campaign and win it well, starting with Sunday's leaders' debate.
The first Age-Nielsen Poll since Rudd called the election is good news for Tony Abbott, but not a disaster for Labor. Rudd could retain power on these numbers - just - but only if they fell in all the right places. That is a very, very long shot indeed.
After the initial surge in Labor's primary vote after Rudd's return on June 26, all polls in the past two weeks have shown either a slight movement towards the Coalition, or no movement at all. This invites the conclusion that he erred in not calling an August election.
Illustration: Ron Tandberg
Any notion that he can retain power on the back of Abbott's unpopularity, or the affection of voters towards himself, is now exposed as sheer folly. Not only are Abbott's poor approval ratings heading in the right direction but, on the question Rudd posed when he announced the date - who do you trust? - Abbott has the ascendancy.
Week one of the campaign saw no great triumph or disaster on either side, and not much to really engage the electorate. But no movement favours the Coalition, which has been expected to win almost since the last election ended in a hung parliament.
Labor reaped no real benefit from the cut in interest rates and Abbott saw no big bounce from one of the big-ticket promises of his campaign: his pledge to cut the company tax rate. The asylum seeker debate continued, with tentative signs that Rudd's hardline approach is beginning to deter desperate people from getting on boats.
After the hostility of the Murdoch tabloids, reflected in the ''Kick This Mob Out'' front page of Sydney's Daily Telegraph on Monday, Labor strategists might console themselves that they did well to, more or less, hold their vote, especially in NSW.
Indeed, Labor's primary vote is most healthy in NSW (39 per cent), where Abbott expects to pick up seats, and in Queensland (38 per cent), where Rudd must make significant gains to have any chance. The equation is daunting for Labor because the Coalition effectively begins with 75 seats in the 150-seat House of Representatives, courtesy of the retirements of Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor.
A caveat is that most of the 1400 poll respondents were canvassed before the week's biggest surprise: Rudd's recruitment of Peter Beattie as a candidate for a Coalition-held seat in outer Brisbane. Will the return of the former premier lift the Labor vote across Queensland and elsewhere? Or will the headline in The Courier Mail, News Corp's Brisbane tabloid, ''Send In The Clown'', be vindicated?
Rudd is still in better shape in net approval ratings and has an 8 percentage-point lead as preferred prime minister, but Abbott has cut that margin by a third in the past four weeks.
Abbott is keeping things simple, focusing on the past and promising costings later. ''The next four weeks are important in determining the outcome of this election, but not as important as the last six years,'' he says.
Rudd, who is inviting voters to embrace his ''new way'', has a more complicated story to tell, and just four weeks to tell it.