As if being kissed by one candidate wasn't bad enough...

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The Independent Online

The Australian election campaign descended into farce when the main contenders were photographed holding the same baby at a shopping centre within hours of each other.

Fourteen-month-old Austin Byrnes was with his mother, Brooke, when he found himself being cuddled by the Prime Minister John Howard, who is seeking a fifth term for his conservative coalition.

Two hours later, Austin was in the arms of the Opposition Labour Party leader Kevin Rudd at the Erina Fair shopping centre, north of Sydney.

Mr Rudd, handing out ripe mangoes as if they were tax cuts, seemed to prove the more popular with shoppers. Mrs Byrnes, the mother of the over-cuddled baby, told The Sydney Morning Herald that she would probably vote Labour on election day – 24 November.

The coincidence of the baby-cuddling occured as Mr Rudd continued to accuse Mr Howard of copying his policies. Mr Howard, who has been in power for 11 years, claims the Labour Party has stolen dozens of his policies. The similarities between the two parties' policies have prompted one newspaper to run a front-page photograph of Mr Rudd and Mr Howard, below the headline "Spot the difference".

One FM radio host has called the election a choice between "two nerdy men with glasses".

An opinion poll, published in yesterday's The Australian newspaper, gives Labour a six-point lead over the Coalition. An interest rate rise announcement expected today, could widen the gap.

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