SYDNEY (AFP) - Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on Monday launched the first day of Australia's election campaign faced with a poll showing his personal support has slumped and the Murdoch press urging voters to "kick this mob out".
Mr Rudd on Sunday named Sept 7 as the day Australians will go to the polls, hoping to complete a stunning political comeback with victory for his Labor Party three years after it ousted him.
But he faces an uphill battle after what newspapers said was years of a "toxic political climate" that saw Julia Gillard topple Mr Rudd as Labor leader in 2010 before he defeated her to retake the job in June in hopes of saving the party from an election wipeout.
Since then Mr Rudd has re-energised Labor but in the first poll since the election was announced the Tony Abbott-led conservative coalition continues to lead on a two-party basis - 52 to 48 percent, unchanged from two weeks ago.
More worryingly for Mr Rudd, the Newspoll in The Australian newspaper of 1,147 voters showed there has been a jump of six percentage points in the number of people dissatisfied with his performance during the past fortnight.
And while he remains the preferred prime minister by a long margin over Mr Abbott, the poll showed he has lost some ground.
Labor is also battling the might of the Murdoch press, with the Australian-born media baron's tabloid Sydney Daily Telegraph devoting its entire front page to a picture of Mr Rudd and an editorial under the headline: "Finally, you now have the chance to ... Kick This Mob Out."
The mass-market newspaper supported him at the 2007 election that he won but now says it is time to "consign Rudd to the bin of history", calling for "an end to two terms of political chaos and economic decline".
"We agree with the prime minister when he says that 'the old politics of the past won't work for Australia's future'," said the newspaper, with Rupert Murdoch last week jetting in his trusted lieutenant, New York Post editor Australian Col Allan, to lead the campaign.
"The problem is, those old politics belong to Kevin Rudd and to history's rubbish bin."
Mr Murdoch's broadsheet The Australian acknowledged Mr Rudd had given Labor new life, but said: "Labor cannot distance itself from its record over the past six years."
It added that Australia had endured "a toxic political climate and a period of repeated government failure on core issues".
Mr Rudd, whose campaign is set to focus on the economy and a decision to send asylum-seekers to Papua New Guinea and Nauru, began his pitch to voters in Canberra on Monday and said he was not surprised at Mr Murdoch's stance.
"He wants to see the government removed and he wants to see Mr Abbott as prime minister," he told ABC radio.