The man is a charmer; I will give him that.
He wielded the microphone like Oprah Winfrey; he walked among the seated masses like Jesus walked on the Dead Sea; and he joked and bonded with the adoring crowd as he addressed their concerns about tax, petrol prices and the Labor state governments.
It was a fascinating sight. Until the "Jehovah" woman. But more about her later.
As part of the Prime Minister's phoney election campaign - sorry, the carrying out of his responsibility to listen to voter concerns - Wollstonecraft's Favourite Son today visited the Beenleigh Community Centre for what had been badged a "community forum and morning tea".
Now it certainly was a community - a community of diehard members of the John Howard Fan Club. Sure, it's not that diverse a community, but I think you'll find it fits within the dictionary definition of the word "community". And there were a few people under 50 there - most of the journos, a few token school kiddies, and the classic mortgage belt mum with bub on lap, sitting by the door just in case J.Ho needed an emergency baby to kiss on the way out. But more seemed to have one foot in the grave rather than one out of the pram, if you get my tasteless and unkind analogy.
It makes sense. Who has the time to spend a good couple of hours on a weekday talking shop with the PM? Retirees, that's who. Who are mortgage-free baby boomers and grey nomads more likely to vote for? John Howard. And Forde, the electorate which encompasses Beenleigh, is regarded as a safe Liberal one. I'm not trying to slag off older people, or even the Liberal Party, but after the fifteenth person has prefaced their question to Mr Howard with "I just want to say you're the best Prime Minister Australia's ever had", I started getting a little cynical. Of course, the PM's people would avoid a weeknight or weekend soiree - they might get the great unwashed showing up to spoil the love-in.
But in this situation, the PM was in his element. A few people asked genuine questions, including one regarding our overseas aid, but nobody questioned him on Burma. People asked about petrol prices, but not about how those on a pension or low-income earners are coping with rising costs of living. There was a lot of questions about superannuation and tax cuts, and the PM joked with an 84-year-old man who said he'd been paying tax for 60 years, "Peter says thank you". Big laughs. There was a lot of support for the PM when he urged more direct consultation between local governments and Canberra, and criticised the states.
A woman with caked on make-up, a big pink flower in her hair and a gaudy pink outfit to match even got up to dramatically praise the Prime Minister for his "belief in Jehovah". She went on to theatrically breathe into the microphone that those who do acknowledge Jehovah go on to achieve bigger and better things. There was an outburst of applause - but even the PM had the grace to look a teeny bit awkward, as I exchanged wide-eyed looks of disbelief with the ABC journo beside me.
As far as the journalism went - there was only one moment of gold, which came when a couple of primary schoolers asked when the election would be. Cue riotous laughter and more protestions from J. Ho that he hasn't made up his mind yet, but "definitely by early December". The PM refused to do a doorstop after leaving the room to a standing ovation. We followed him on a walk to the local Liberal member's electoral office, but he disappeared inside. An executive decision was made by various media crews to sod off and leave him to his own devices.
I've been to a few John Howard media engagements now, and it's certainly interesting to watch him weave his magic. He has a remarkable memory for names and faces, and he gives time to everyone. He is a consummate magician, ergo, a consummate politican.
No matter what the polls say, K.Rudd has a battle on his hands (and in a way, so does Peter Costello). Because the PM adores being adored. And he's not going to give that up without a fight.