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Howard's way: Steady as she goes

By CNN's Grant Holloway in Sydney

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Howard revels in his image as a conservative leader.
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CNN's Mike Chinoy looks at the two candidates running for Australian Prime Minister
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SYDNEY, Australia (CNN) -- Australian Prime Minister John Howard once described his political fortunes as "Lazarus with a triple bypass".

Even that colorful analogy will be surpassed should the 30-year veteran of Australian politics succeed in leading his conservative coalition to a fourth consecutive election victory on October 9.

Regardless of outcome, it's been a remarkable performance for 65-year-old John Winston Howard -- a man once dumped as his party's leader in the dark days of opposition in the mid 1980s.

If he wins on Saturday, Howard will be set to become Australia's second-longest serving prime minister, a feat surpassed only by his boyhood idol and Liberal party icon Robert Menzies.

Howard, the son of a gas-station owner in suburban Sydney, joined the Liberal party at age 18.

He was first elected to Australia's parliament in 1974 as the member for the seat of Bennelong in Sydney's leafy north-western suburbs.

Educated at government schools before gaining a degree in law from Sydney University, Howard made a strong early impression, being made a minister in 1975 and subsequently serving as treasurer.

After a long stretch on the opposition benches during the 1980s and early 1990s, Howard -- in his second stint as Opposition leader -- managed to topple Labor leader Paul Keating.

He was sworn in as Prime Minister in March 1996, and despite many attempts to write him off as dour and lacking charisma, Howard has led his conservative coalition to subsequent election victories and is well positioned to again repeat the performance.

A steadfast supporter of the Bush administration's Iraq policy, Howard will be the first of the national four leaders who invaded Iraq to seek re-election.

Howard revels in his image as a conservative, steady leader who is prepared to stick to his guns despite protest and unfavorable reaction.

A get-tough policy on border security paid big dividends in 2001. Among his greatest achievements as a politician has been to swing large numbers of traditionally Labor party voters across to his coalition -- particularly in western Sydney -- and maintain their support through thick and thin.

In 2001 he achieved his most remarkable victory, coming from a long way behind in opinion polls to maintain power on the back of sharply targeted campaigning and elevating national security and border control to key electoral issues in the wake of September 11.

A get-tough policy to stem the flow of asylum-seekers arriving by boat from Indonesia -- including using special forces to block a Norwegian freighter carrying would-be refugees entering Australian waters -- paid big dividends.

This time around, Howard is campaigning hard on his government's strong economic record.

Under his leadership, the nation is enjoying record prosperity with a booming sharemarket, high property prices driven by low interest rates and near full employment.


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