The ALP used Grand Final weekend to launch a new ad in that other epic battle that will probably be decided by Queenslanders (lame, I know). The 'scratchie ad' was put to air, and puts the focus right back on to Howard, Costello and the plans for succession. For those who were too busy praying or breathing in fresh air rather than watching the footy, the ad features a scratchie card with Howard's face in view, and through the ad the face is scratched away to reveal Costello lurking underneath. A clip from Abbott from earlier this year then spells out that if the Liberals a returned, power would inevitably transfer from Howard to Costello.
Accepting that the premise of this commerical is correct and Howard will not sit out the full term - sounds perfectly reasonable from here - the crux of the ad is that Costello as Prime Minister is bad news. The ALP have presumably done their research and realise that Costello is just not popular; he's smarmy; an economic rationalist; a young turk; a spoilt rich boy. All of which amounts to a character who scares off conservative voters, and is someone most people cannot warm to. Ironically, it identifies one of the PM's strengths in doing so, namely that he is conservative and reliable and reasonably homely.
Perhaps that is the inevitable fate of someone who sits only in the Treasurer's seat, and needs to frequently tighen the purse-strings. No matter how well the person does the job, they are cast negatively in the public's mind as a scrooge. That's not to say that they can't grow out of it - after all, both Keating and Howard managed to do it - but it takes time.
Is Costello really that bad? No doubt the polling says so, but some believe otherwise (ie, me). Costello is much more socially progressive than his conservative leader, he has a national vision more in tune with those under 40, he is young, energetic and equipped with new ideas, and he has a sense of humour. All factors that make some people more likely to vote for the Libs under Costello than under Howard. Obviously those are the views of a minority, and Costello has plenty of hard work to do to win over his critics. But are the problems he faces intractable? Not likely.
On a quick, styalistic note, you can't help but notice that the images of Howard, Costello and Abbott are all in black and white. Now either the ALP are subconsciously trying to recreate the B&W days of Whitlam, Latham is taking his Collingwood support too far, or the ALP are messing with our minds a little and trying to make the three of them look that bit more shifty, untrustworthy, and tougher to relate to. What a cunning array of stunts.