Maxine McKew in Bennelong
Let's accept that Maxine McKew is the next Labor candidate for Bennelong. Now that it's been announced there's too much at stake for the wide boys of the NSW ALP not to get their way. Farewell Pierre Esben, we hardly knew ya - but keep an eye out for any cushy jobs to which this Parramatta City Councillor might be appointed.
If Labor were really serious about winning Bennelong - and I mean steely-eyed, nothing's-gonna-stop-us serious - they would have chosen John Watkins. Watkins has the profile, both at high-level policy-driven politics as well as at the grassroots in that area. He would have tied Howard down and given encouragement to both Rudd and Costello. Of course he'll show McKew where the pressure points in that electorate are, and he is the fallback option if she falls over.
Will McKew beat Howard? The answer to that depends on a lot of factors that can't be dependably forseen this far out from the election. While the Rudd honeymoon can't last, it's unlikely that voters will be as bored with him as they were with Beazley, or as repelled as with Latham. Howard and Costello might pull out some super spending proposals, but they might go absolutely nowhere politically if voters have stopped listening to them. It's possible that another catastrophe like September 11 will cause the electoral pendulum to jerk suddenly this way or that.
The polls are based on a false premise. "If there was an election held last weekend ..." - yeah but there wasn't an election last weekend was there, nor was there 4-6 weeks of concentrated hoo-ha before that. It might be as much as you have to go on, it might even be necessary, but it is not sufficient.
The real unknown factor here is McKew herself. She says, "public life matters. It's the main game", but it depends what you mean by public life. Is public life the big-ticket items in the budget, committing troops to battle - or is it speeches and glad-handing at Truscott Street Public School, Epping Rugby Club, and/or St Therese's Church Denistone?
Howard does the latter very well indeed. This quality is often underestimated in him; big-time MSM reporters like Maxine McKew barely regard it as worth mentioning except in patronising terms. Howard doesn't have charisma as such - not in the Kidman/Clooney sense, but in a room or a shopping centre he does exude energy and he gets energy from interacting with people. By sheer graft he can make people feel important: you can sneer at the person who feels strangely empowered that the Prime Minister of Australia shook my hand, but all that sneering hasn't dislodged him from office yet.
Does Maxine McKew identify with people? McKew seems like a nice person on telly, but it is possible for someone to seem nice while actually being a swine once the cameras are off. What would kill McKew in Bennelong is an insensitivity to ordinary people.
Is she going to listen to some old person bang on about their operations, or weather the blast of some parent frustrated by issues that public policy alone can't really fix? Is she going to interrupt a voter in mid-sentence to take a mobile phone call from Kevin Rudd?
Bennelong is a very churchy area: if she takes the Lord's name in vain in a flash of anger/frustration, if some wild and scabrous story comes out from twenty years before, this will count for a lot with Bennelong voters - more than it warrants perhaps, but on election night such an event will make itself felt.
Maybe she'll count on the Old Mates' Club of the parliamentary press gallery to close ranks for her - she's be dreaming, particularly if one of the local rags breaks a story (and if she disdains said rags as beneath her, then she's finished).
McKew has seen political careers rise and fall, but that's not the same as being in the game yourself.
The worst-case scenario for Labor and McKew in six months from now is if she's wounded, she's bored, the gloss will be gone and Howard will run rings around her, campaigning hither and yon across the nation utterly unconcerned about his own seat. A whispering campaign in the area of "I met that Maxine McKew and she's a cold fish/nasty piece of work" will ensure that whatever glamour she brings to the contest does not translate into votes.
Memo to Bennelong Liberals: you could start a whispering campaign yourselves, but people in the community who know you well enough to hear you out about McKew will also know that you're Liberals, and that you would say that. Still, give it a go, and leave Howard to wear the backlash; besides, you didn't get where you are by listening to me.
The best-case scenario, of course, is that which the papers are full of today: high-profile, will give Howard a run for his money. Some run, some money.