Is Gillard's number up?
Significant support has shifted against Prime Minister Gillard, with little chance she will lead Labor to the next election, writes Barrie Cassidy.
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, has lost significant support in the caucus, with key players now planning when and how she should be approached to step aside.
Those who have changed their thinking are convinced that in any case, she must be close to deciding for herself that continuing on through a torrid and hopeless ten-week campaign is intolerable.
She must by now, they argue, have gone through all five stages of grief.
The first and second stages, anger and depression, will surely have been experienced many times in the past, and still ignite when events present themselves within in her own ranks and within the media.
The third is bargaining, and she has done lots of that, doing deals with interest groups, rallying the troops behind her as Kevin Rudd advanced, and putting together solid and popular policy initiatives, like the NDIS and education reform.
In the end, it was the kind of furious bargaining that might have worked in ordinary times, but seems to have been inadequate in the tough days of minority government.
The fourth stage is denial and isolation. Given the appalling ill discipline on display from the team behind her in the last parliamentary sitting week, that stage has probably now come and gone.
The fifth and final stage, the big one, is acceptance. Does she yet accept that she can no longer head up a united party and bring out the best in the team in the critical weeks ahead? And only the best will head off a rout.
The view of some former staunch supporters is that not only can she not win the election, but she almost certainly cannot lift the primary vote from where it now sits.
The only option, if Gillard decides to step down, is former leader, Kevin Rudd. No thought is being given to anybody else.
It galls many in the Labor Party that the leadership could return to Rudd. The reasons they moved so overwhelmingly against him in the first place are well documented and, on the evidence, haven't changed. In fact the leaks that derailed majority government for Gillard in 2010 only stiffened their resolve.
Some caucus members are convinced that Rudd personally leaked, if not to Laurie Oakes, then certainly to Peter Hartcher.
Imagine then, if that is their firmly held belief, how that must rankle with them; the prospect that one of their own would leak against them in the middle of an election campaign, with the intent of causing the party to lose?
But politics is not just nasty, it's pragmatic as well.
Since March, Gillard has had the clear air she needed and demanded to promote the NDIS, the economy and education reform, and all to no avail.
Rudd has again demonstrated just how effective he can be on the campaign trail, and he will go on doing that around the country.
He does in all the circumstances represent the better chance for Labor to maximise its return in seat numbers.
The intriguing element now is that it might favour Bill Shorten if Rudd was to take back the leadership.
Shorten is the most likely leader in opposition. It would not escape his thinking that Rudd would deliver a better base from which to launch an attack on Tony Abbott at the election after next.
And presumably, if Rudd was to lose, the caucus would judge that at least he was eventually given his chance, that he fell short and therefore should depart the scene for good. A line could then be drawn under both Gillard and Rudd.
And it would at least put an end to the otherwise unanswerable query: would they have won under Rudd? If Rudd does not lead, his supporters will argue forever that, given the chance, he would have won.
If Rudd does not get to lead between now and the election, he will stay around in opposition afterwards and present as the same threat to Shorten, or whoever leads the party, as he has been to Gillard. He would be the same distraction, the same lightning rod for dissatisfaction and instability.
There is one significant strategic advantage that falls to Labor if Rudd leads. Gillard's pledge to go to an election on September 14 would no longer be valid. Rudd could take advantage of the obvious honeymoon, catch the Coalition with its pants down, and go as early as Saturday, August 10.
It might not create panic in Coalition ranks, but it would be unsettling. Every issue that now seems to go nowhere, will be debated afresh.
A whole new ball game would be underway with every previous assumption made redundant.
Barrie Cassidy is the presenter of ABC programs Insiders and Offsiders. View his full profile here.