By E. J. Dionne Jr:
MELBOURNE, Australia -- In describing the average voter's view of the economy, which opposition party politician said, "If things are going so well, why am I finding it so tough?"
Guessing Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or John Edwards would be reasonable but wrong. The words are those of Kevin Rudd, the leader of the Australian Labor Party, who, if current polling numbers hold, will be elected this fall as Australia's next prime minister.
The "if" is important -- the 11-year incumbent, John Howard, is one of the toughest politicians in the democratic world and will not go down without a fierce fight. The election campaign here is an important test of whether good economic numbers are enough to reelect an incumbent party when, even in the midst of affluence, voters feel stressed, overly in debt and time-poor in their personal lives.
Julia Gillard, the Labor Party's deputy leader, cites all these factors in casting the campaign as a choice between the Howard government's economic record and "fresh ideas, a government in touch with people's needs and fairness at work." She and just about everyone else expect the government to run "a fear campaign based on the economy," as she puts it, a strategy rooted in the claim that Rudd's Labor Party would wreck what Howard has achieved.