UPDATE: The audience cast its vote and Kevin Rudd emerged the winner after a leaders’ debate with Opposition Leader Tony Abbott tonight.
But in the words of one woman who gave Mr Rudd her vote on the night: “I still have 10 days to think about it and change my mind.”
Mother-of-three Rhoda Merchant, 46, asked a question about education funding for independent schools during tonight’s debate, held at the Rooty Hill RSL in the Labor heartland of western Sydney.
Usually a Christian Party voter, Ms Merchant said Mr Rudd narrowly won her over on the night.
“The thing is politicians will just say things when they are campaigning and then when they are doing the job it doesn’t eventuate,” she said after the debate.
Of the 105 “undecided voters” selected as the audience for Wednesday’s forum, 102 voted, with 45 awarding Mr Rudd victory, 38 backing Mr Abbott and 19 abstaining.
“That was one sample, and the biggest sample will be on September 7,” senior Liberal Christopher Pyne said after the forum, insisting that Mr Abbott was the stronger and more positive of the two leaders.
After the speech Mr Abbott’s campaign bus, bearing giant pictures of his head and the slogan “a stronger Australia", was needed to jump start a coach carrying Mr Rudd’s media entourage.
Mr Rudd believes Australia continues to face uncertain economic times and his core goal is to protect Australian jobs.
Mr Rudd was giving his opening remarks in the third leaders' debate of this federal election campaign.
He had earlier visited a local school, where he met a young man called James, who's training to be a carpenter and was benefiting from a $5000 government allowance that helps apprentices buy equipment.
"What we need in Australia is an army of James ... building the economy of the future," Mr Rudd said.
"I see my job as prime minister of Australia as doing everything possible to protect your job for the future."
Mr Rudd said he had steered Australia through the 2008-2009 global financial crisis.
But the nation was still facing "uncertain" economic times.
"I believe we have got to build for the future," he added.
Mr Abbott made a direct pitch to the western Sydney voters in the audience.
"I've lived for 12 months at Emu Plains. I worked for 12 months as a concrete batching plant manager at Silverwater," he said.
"I respect and appreciate this part of Sydney."
Mr Abbott said his plan for western Sydney began with building the West Connex freeway into the city and included scrapping the carbon tax, finishing the National Broadband Network and tackling crime with CCTV and better lighting.
"You deserve a better government in Canberra and that's what this election is all about," he said.
The prime minister was then asked if he agreed he had destabilised Julia Gillard's government in the months leading up to his return as Labor leader.
Mr Rudd said political parties needed to "put their best foot forward".
He insisted he was "contributing fully" to the efforts of the Gillard government, although others disagreed.
"We resolved that through an open ballot of our party, and as a result of that I was able to prevail," Mr Rudd said.
"I can say that through all of that, I believe I was doing absolutely the right thing by the party and by the country."
Mr Abbott said the best way to deal with the Labor government was to put them in opposition.
"I think that way they'll learn who they represent and who they stand for much better," he said.
Asked about his policy costings, Mr Rudd said Labor had outlined its policies, savings and budget bottom line in its economic statement released prior to the start of the election campaign.
"It's there in black and white," he said.
He asked Mr Abbott why the public had not yet seen his complete election costings.
Mr Abbott said shadow treasurer Joe Hockey had released a $31 billion list of savings on Wednesday.
"That will enable us to more than pay for the vast majority of commitments we've made," he said, adding the full costings list would be released next week.
Mr Abbott said the government had shown a lack of respect for taxpayers' money.
Challenged by Mr Rudd to clarify his position on the future of Medicare Locals and its 3000 health workers, Mr Abbott said: "We are not shutting any Medicare Locals."
Mr Rudd didn't believe him, pointing to previous comments by opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton.
"I think we need to be very careful about what is real and what is not here," Mr Rudd said.
Both leaders said they were committed to better schools and to continued public funding for independent schools.
Mr Abbott said the coalition had pledged to match Labor's increased funding over four years.
Mr Rudd asked the Opposition Leader why he hadn't matched Labor's plan for the commonwealth to give schools $10 billion over the next six years.
"It's a huge gap," Mr Rudd said.
"Why not commit to the full six-year funding, Mr Abbott?"
Mr Abbott said governments should budget "responsibly" over rolling four-year periods.
"Our aspiration beyond the forward estimates period is to continue to fund schools ever more generously," he said
"I think it is an unwise voter ... who trusts a government with a very poor record of delivery."
A small business owner asked what credentials Mr Rudd had to run the economy when his government hadn't delivered a budget surplus in years.
The prime minister defended Labor's record, saying his government had supported small business even when the global financial crisis forced it to make tough budgetary decisions.
"We didn't want the whole show to go into recession and see small businesses collapse," he said.
The coalition has announced it would scrap some benefits for small businesses, if elected.
Mr Abbott conceded this, saying it was irresponsible to offer things that couldn't be paid for.
He questioned Mr Rudd's global financial crisis management credentials.
"If his management of the global financial crisis was so outstanding, why did his own party sack him in June of 2010?" he asked.
Mr Rudd threw the barb straight back at the opposition leader.
"I think Malcolm Turnbull's had a few chips at you over the years as well mate," he said, prompting laughter from the crowd.
One man said he liked Mr Abbott's paid parental leave scheme, but still had a query.
"I just think the forklift driver in Mount Druitt shouldn't be paying his taxes so a pretty little lady lawyer on the North Shore earning $180,000 a year can have a kid," he said.
Mr Abbott said big business would pay a levy that would fund the "lion's share" of the difference in cost of his scheme and Labor's scheme.
He said the coalition scheme, which will cost $5.5 billion a year, was "fair and just".
The debate sparked up when an audience member asked the leaders what they'd like to ask each other.
Mr Abbott asked Mr Rudd to give Australians a "positive reason" to vote for Labor.
"My problem is that Mr Rudd hasn't given us a positive reason to vote for him," Mr Abbott added.
Mr Rudd's answer was that Labor was delivering better schools funding, improved hospital spending and the National Broadband Network.
The prime minister in turn asked Mr Abbott to release all his policy costing details.
Not to do so, Mr Rudd said, would make people think Mr Abbott was being "evasive".
Mr Abbott said the question was based on "more fear and more scare".
"This is the whole basis of Mr Rudd's pitch," he said.
Mr Rudd interjected: "How about a straight answer to a straight question?"
The opposition leader then said the budget would be better off under a coalition government and its costings would be released well before election day.
Mr Rudd replied: "Tony, I think that is waffle cubed."
Mr Abbott was asked if he would break election commitments if he won office and discovered the budget books weren't what he expected.
The opposition leader said his election promises were "fairly modest" and he was being up front about savings because he didn't want any surprises if he won office.
"I am determined to under-promise and over-deliver, so that after the election people are much more likely to be pleasantly surprised than furiously disappointed," he said.
He wouldn't give a "cast-iron promise" about when he'd return the budget to surplus because Labor had gone down that road and failed.
Mr Rudd said his government wouldn't break its election commitments if re-elected on September 7.
Mr Rudd was asked if his recent announcements on a Northern Territory special economic zone and a proposal to move naval assets from Sydney to Brisbane were "thought bubbles".
"I don't apologise for being in the vision business," Mr Rudd said.
Mr Abbott said he was all in favour of vision, but "sometimes what Mr Rudd's come up with is a bit of a nightmare".
Mr Rudd said the NT proposal had been considered by cabinet for a long time before the announcement, contrary to media reports.
Another voter was worried about under-employment and the lack of sick leave and annual leave for some workers, such as casuals.
Mr Abbott said the best way to address these issues was to have a stronger economy.
"The only way you are going to get more employment is if you've got more employers prepared to take people on," he said.
Mr Rudd said Labor was providing grants for apprentices and mature-aged workers, but he accepted the key issue was building a stronger economy.
"It's a big challenge. We are passionate about it."
Asked how he would grow the economy while supporting the environment, Mr Rudd said tackling climate change was a priority.
Labor had introduced a renewable energy target, a carbon price and engaged in global talks to work towards a solution.
Mr Abbott said economic growth and a cleaner environment went hand in hand.
Wealthier nations could provide future generations a greener world than their parents.
"Poor countries tend to have much worse environmental records than relatively rich ones," he said.
Another voter said Australia should ban foreigners from buying up rural land.
Mr Abbott said such investment was necessary but the coalition had a plan to toughen thresholds for the national interest test.
Mr Rudd said his preference was for joint ventures involving Australian and overseas firms.
"We need to take a more cautious approach to this in the future without throwing the baby out with the bathwater," he said.
Asked about a ban on Chinese investment, Mr Abbott said Australia shouldn't have a "colour bar" on investors.
"That would be shocking," he said.
Another woman tried to convince the leaders that people should be able to access their superannuation early to either put a deposit on a first home or pay off a house and buy an investment property to help fund retirement.
"It's just ridiculous because you can have super for many years and unless you want to play the stock market every day ... you really don't get very much out of it," she said.
"You'd be much better going in to a housing situation and using the investment property to fund your retirement."
Mr Rudd was willing to look at how superannuation could be accessed early for older people.
"We need to look at how you have more flexible access to finance and that's a direction in which I'm prepared to do policy work," he said.
But it was too hard to give young people access because the superannuation system had been designed to give people a proper retirement income.
Mr Abbott said earlier in life he had wished he could have accessed his superannuation to pay off his mortgage.
He said the reason tax concessions were given for super was that it was to be kept for retirement.
"We either use it now and don't get any tax concessions or we preserve it to a certain age and do get concessions."
Mr Rudd summed up by saying he would build the economy and jobs of the future, while Mr Abbott could push the economy into recession.
"If you are going to hit the economy with a massive hit of $70 billion worth of cuts let me tell you there is the risk that will throw the economy, in a delicate time in the global economic environment, into the possibility of recession," the prime minister said.
In his closing remarks, Mr Abbott said the debate was about what Australians wanted.
"How can the pair of us, in our own different ways, make your life better?" he asked the audience.
Mr Abbott played up his stable team against Labor's two changes of prime minister and multiple ministerial shifts.
"Frankly, it's been chaos," he said."I reckon the circus has got to stop."