When Prime Minister Scott Morrison decided on a six-week election campaign, he knew that for the Coalition to win it would have to negotiate a long and winding road. What neither he, nor the LNP strategists, could have foreseen was how rocky that road would be.
The plan was that a long campaign would create opportunities for the largely untested Opposition Leader to make mistakes while under the intense scrutiny placed on all potential prime ministers once an election date is set.
Mr Morrison, who has spent the past three and a half years dealing with a succession of crises unrivalled since World War II, was confident he would perform well, while Mr Albanese, like Mark Latham in 2004, could implode in the final weeks of the campaign.
His Treasurer had just handed down a pre-election budget which had been generally well received by voters, and whose cost-of-living measures had immediately been endorsed by Labor.
Mr Morrison was clearly of the view the economy and national security, traditionally Coalition strengths, were the best battleground on which to fight. His opponent had no experience in managing the economy, the shadow treasurer had never even been in government, and the economic outlook seemed favourable. National security was also travelling well. AUKUS and the submarine deal had been a significant coup, the US alliance had never been stronger, and thanks to the Quad security partnership Australia was no longer alone in pushing back against coercion from China.
It looked like the conservatives had a very good chance of improving in the polls, while Labor could well go the other way.
Those hopes seemed to have been realised early on when Mr Albanese proved unable to quote the unemployment rate, the cash rate or the price of petrol. These early "gaffes" invited the government and some parts of the media to attack him as being "not up to the job".
So after his opponent's missteps gifted Mr Morrison that positive campaign start, what went wrong? The short answer is "almost everything".
It's hard to recall a Prime Minister on the campaign trail who has been hit by so many bad-news buses in such a short time. While the war in Ukraine, and the jump in fuel prices it created, pre-dated the budget, there was some early hope of a peace settlement. That didn't happen. The conflict now seems set to drag on for months, or even years, and petrol prices are still hovering around $100 a barrel.
Then, in quick succession, came bad news on the inflation front, the RBA's decision to raise interest rates, and a diplomatic crisis in the Solomons. The PM's words from last year to the effect that interest rates, petrol prices and inflation would always be lower under a Coalition government are now an albatross around his neck.
Even when Mr Albanese went down with COVID, a strong showing by colleagues such as Jason Clare, Katy Gallagher and others saw Labor pick up in the polls.
Despite some early improvements, these polls have gotten progressively worse. Data released on Thursday indicated if an election were to be held right now Labor would win 80 seats - a clear majority - and Josh Frydenberg would be exiting Parliament.
The polls are backed up, admittedly unscientifically, by orchestrated voter feedback as part of the debates.
While, as 2019 proved, the polls are far from infallible, the Coalition has a lot more ground to make up between now and May 21 than at this point three years ago.
Mr Morrison called the 2019 win a miracle. He will need an even greater one this time.
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