The fate of Labor's leadership appears likely to come down to a two-horse race between senior frontbenchers Anthony Albanese and Bill Shorten.
Both men yesterday deflected questions about their aspirations in what looms as the first test of new party rules that give grassroots members a greater say.
But whoever assumes the mantle after Kevin Rudd stepped down after Saturday's heavy defeat will inherit a party in much better shape compared with its last landslide loss, in 1996.
Bookmakers have installed Mr Shorten, the outgoing education and workplace relations minister, as favourite.
Mr Shorten is a Victorian Right powerbroker and former national boss of the powerful Australian Workers Union.
His mother-in-law is Governor-General Quentin Bryce.
Mr Shorten said yesterday he needed to speak to his family first before deciding whether to run. He also wants a contest without rancour or the divisions of the past so the party can get on with rebuilding.
Mr Albanese, the outgoing deputy prime minister, is a NSW Left powerbroker. Although he publicly backed Mr Rudd in Labor's leadership ructions, he is close to Gillard loyalists such as Wayne Swan and more likely to unite the party. He would also be the best choice if the party wanted to give Tony Abbott a dose of his own medicine and oppose his agenda every step of the way.
Mr Albanese would not be drawn on his interest in the leadership but said he would discuss it over the next few days, with the top priority being for the party to unite.
If there is a contest, it could be some weeks before a new leader is selected.
New party rules rammed through by Mr Rudd on his return to the prime ministership means a leadership ballot is weighted 50 per cent for MPs and senators and 50 per cent for grassroots Labor members.
The next leader has the nucleus of a strong frontbench by drawing on the experience of outgoing ministers.
As Mr Rudd noted on Saturday night, all Cabinet ministers retained their seats, including resources minister Gary Gray in his Rockingham-based seat of Brand and treasurer Chris Bowen in western Sydney, despite fears over their fate.
Mr Gray would also be a natural fit to keep resources when the industry is so crucial to WA.
Newly elected Perth MP Alannah MacTiernan would also be a contender for the frontbench after her years in the ministry in the WA State Labor government.