Kevin Rudd plans to hit the phones as soon as he lands in Australia today to head off a humiliating defeat in the leadership ballot on Monday and score enough votes to keep alive the prospect of a second challenge.
As the government shredded itself with public infighting and ministers unleashed a shock-and-awe campaign to crush Mr Rudd, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, called a ballot for 10am Monday.
Ms Gillard, who is popular with her colleagues but not the voters, urged the public to consider why Mr Rudd did not contest the ballot when he was challenged in June 2010.
''The people who knew him best and knew the most about his prime ministership determined that he no longer had their support,'' she said.
Mr Rudd, speaking before leaving Washington, stated bluntly that Ms Gillard could not beat the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, at the next election.
''That is a deep belief. I believe it's also a shared view right across the Australian community,'' he said.
Mr Rudd said he was the best prospect to ''save'' Labor from defeat and the nation from Mr Abbott.
Mr Rudd, who is popular with the public but not his colleagues, called on ''people power'' to propel him across the line.
He urged members of the public to lobby their local MP and senator to vote for him in the ballot, a call repeated by Mr Rudd's wife, Therese Rein, who held her own news conference.
One MP took offence, saying: ''This is Kevin going over the heads of caucus again.''
The victor at the ballot needs a minimum of 52 of the 103 caucus votes.
Mr Rudd's numbers men do not think he can win but believe he needs more than 30 votes to establish a beachhead for another challenge down the track. They expect him to hit the phones after landing in Brisbane this morning to push his vote into the 30s.
The Gillard camp is aware of this and is out to crush Mr Rudd to put an end to the destabilisation once and for all. Ms Gillard said the loser must move to the backbench and renounce further leadership ambitions.
About 20 of the 30 ministers, including 18 yesterday, have declared their support for Ms Gillard. Only four have declared for Mr Rudd.
One who has stayed silent is the Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese.
A despondent Mr Albanese planned to hold a ballot last night among his branch members to help him decide which candidate to back on Monday.
Robert McClelland, the Minister for Housing and a Rudd backer, refused to say the campaign would end if Mr Rudd lost.
Ms Gillard excoriated Mr Rudd, joining her ministers in attacking as chaotic and dysfunctional his leadership and blaming him for the leaks that almost destroyed Labor's election campaign in 2010. ''The 2010 election was sabotaged,'' she said.
The common message from Ms Gillard and her supporters was that they had erred in 2010 in not telling the public why they dumped Mr Rudd.
''The truth is that decision was made for very strongly held reasons that I think are just as important now,'' said the Attorney-General, Nicola Roxon. ''I think we need to get out of this idea that Kevin is a messiah who will deliver an election back to us.''
Ms Gillard said that when she declared after the leadership coup that the government had lost its way, she was being polite.
''We went into that election in very difficult circumstances as a result of the months of paralysis and chaos under Mr Rudd's leadership.''
Ms Gillard said Mr Rudd was motivated by opinion polls and headlines and was good only at campaigning, whereas she had the personal strength to persevere in times of adversity and to deliver difficult policies.
Before leaving the US, Mr Rudd phoned the Greens and the independents to seek their support to form a minority government should he beat Ms Gillard.
Tony Windsor told Mr Rudd he did not want to discuss it and Rob Oakeshott said: ''He talked and I just listened.''
The Minister for Community Services, Jenny Macklin, described as reprehensible claims that Mr Rudd's supporters had actively campaigned against the poker machine deal with Andrew Wilkie to make life difficult for Ms Gillard.
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