When Tony Abbott picked up the Sydney Morning Herald a couple of weeks ago, he read the comments of a doctor living in one of the most monied streets in his electorate saying that he'd voted Liberal for 25 years but now wanted Abbott out.
"I thought, 'Bugger it, I'll call him'," Abbott recounts. And so the Manly surgeon soon found a message to call the former prime minister on his mobile. And did.
"I'm not sure I persuaded him, but we had a good chat," says the member for Warringah. He's not the only constituent who's been given Abbott's mobile number.
Abbott says he is campaigning harder than ever before for the seat he's held for 25 years, once one of the very safest Liberal strongholds in the country, now in danger of falling to an independent, the barrister and former Olympic skier Zali Steggall.
So what's his 30-second pitch to voters?
"If you want to get the Beaches Link tunnel built, if you want your taxes kept low, if you want to keep your community safe, you've gotta vote Liberal. An independent in a Liberal seat brings a Labor government closer."
This is the nub of his campaign - a vote for Zali Steggall is a vote for Bill Shorten.
But hold on, Tony. That's not what Steggall says at all. She says that, if elected to the crossbench in a hung Parliament and has to decide which party to support to form government, she would favour the Coalition. Not Labor.
"She's not said that in writing or with any degree of conviction," Abbott counters in an interview at Hemingway's Manly cafe.
"I don't believe her, given that she's said her biggest issue by far is climate change and Labor has a much better climate change policy than the Coalition."
What does Steggall say to this? She defends herself, but she also returns fire: "I stand by what I have said - my preference is the Coalition, but I would need them to come to the table on a proper energy policy and a proper climate change policy," she told me.
"It's pretty interesting that he wants me to put something in writing when he has a career of going back on every commitment, whether it's 'no cuts to the ABC' or the four different positions he's had on climate change."
And how do voters respond to the Abbott pitch for re-election? Mostly with a head nod, he says, but those who want to challenge him bring up the two biggest problems bedevilling the Coalition, not just in Warringah but also nationally: "They will sometimes raise climate change," says Abbott, "and they will sometimes bring up the Liberal party dysfunction for which I'm allegedly partly responsible."
If voters challenge him on climate change, he replies that it's important but needs to be addressed in a "balanced way and not an economy-wrecking way". He advocates the government's position of a 26 to 28 per cent cut to Australia's 2005 level of carbon emissions by 2030.
This is the policy he created as prime minister, the policy he then disavowed as a backbencher calling on Turnbull to dump the Paris climate accord altogether. He says Labor's 45 per cent target would be disastrous, and Steggall's preferred 60 per cent even worse.
As for Liberal dysfunction, does Abbott accept any responsibility at all?
"No," he says. And when voters raise it, he tells them: "I put Malcolm Turnbull in my Cabinet and he didn't return the favour." That gave him the freedom to speak his mind as a backbencher, he explains, even where he was critiquing party policy.
And, he says: "Most people accept that as a fact. There's a small cohort of progressive Liberals who remain very disappointed at Malcolm Turnbull's demise. For them, they have to decide - is their desire to punish me and to punish the Liberal party so strong that they are prepared to help elect a Labor government?"
For Steggall, this is staggering. "What he completely ignores is that it was his own actions that brought this about. He refuses any ownership of his destabilising and the consequences for the government."
For many long-standing Liberal voters, such as the doctor in Manly, the answer to Abbott's challenge is that they are determined to be rid of Abbott - and do not believe his line that Steggall is an indirect pathway to a Labor government.
Nor do they believe Abbott has overcome his destabilising ways. Asked directly if he'd ask for a Cabinet spot in a re-elected Morrison government, he replies that "I'm just not getting into any of that," or anything to do with any leadership aspirations.
Abbott implies that the voters he calls "progressive" Liberals are being selfish. He refers to a recent article quoting a female longtime Liberal voter, Anna Josephson, who is now campaigning for Steggall.
On the same day that story appeared, "with the lady standing by her tennis court in Beauty Point overlooking Middle Harbour, I was stopped in the street by a lady in Balgowlah," a Warringah suburb at one remove from the water-lapped littoral of the electorate.
"She works as a check-out person in Coles, and she said, 'I'm really frightened about what these left-wing policies will do to my power bills and whether I'll be able to keep my car'.
"You can't just dismiss people's concerns - they might be able to afford these costs personally but what about the people who can't?"
And so the Liberal member for Warringah is differentiating between Liberal voters richer and poorer. He hasn't given up on the better-off Liberals who are tending to Steggall, but he is counting on the concerns of the less-well-off to save his seat.
"While I profoundly disagree with people that the overwhelming priority for Australia is emissions, I respect their sincerity and, should I still be the member after the weekend, I'd want to bring them back into the fold." Some of them will even have his mobile number should they wish to recant.
"I don't want them to be driven into the arms of the Greens," Abbott concludes.
And, in the meantime, there's Zali Steggall.
- SMH/The Age