Virtually written off as a political basket case just a few weeks ago, Australian Prime Minister John Howard is touted as the likely winner of the general election on November 10. Mr Howard set the election date on Friday, with his new-found popularity viewed as a product of a firm reaction to last month's terrorist attacks in the United States and his tough policy on refugees. In July, Mr Howard's prospects for re-election were considered poor, while his opponent, Labor Party leader Kim Beazley, was considered unassailable. A series of unpopular policies - including a tax on petrol and the introduction of a goods and services tax - saw Mr Howard's popularity plunge. It was widely predicted that Mr Howard's second term in office would be his last. His coalition Government, made up of the Liberal and National parties, was viewed by many voters as smug and indifferent to the concerns of ordinary Australians, especially in rural areas. As a result, the coalition was hammered in state elections in Western Australia, Queensland, and the Northern Territory. Then came what Australians refer to as 'the Tampa crisis'. The Tampa, a Norwegian freighter on its way to Singapore, picked up about 460 mainly Afghani refugees from a fishing boat struggling to make its way from Indonesia to Australia. During a tense and often acrimonious stand-off, Mr Howard refused to let the asylum seekers be taken to nearby Christmas Island, a tiny Australian territory mid-way between Java and Western Australia. Despite criticism at home and abroad, Mr Howard's uncompromising stance and the subsequent deal he brokered with New Zealand and the tiny Pacific nation of Nauru to take the refugees won him support among ordinary Australians. Many of them are worried that the country is increasingly seen as soft on people-smuggling rackets. Then came the terrorist attacks on Washington and New York. Coincidentally, Mr Howard was in the US for talks with President George W. Bush and celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the Anzus military treaty. He was staying in a Washington hotel just a few miles from the Pentagon and immediately found himself at the centre of a world crisis from which he emerged looking resolute and statesman-like. He swiftly promised Australian military support in the impending campaign against global terrorism. Polls showed that Mr Howard's personal approval rating reached unprecedented levels. The international editor of the Australian newspaper, Paul Kelly, said that while earlier this year Mr Howard's prime ministership seemed to have run its course, anxiety and doubt among Australians about the present crisis would favour him in next month's election. 'If the election is dominated by the war on terror and border security, then Howard should win on the back of his image as the resolute incumbent spearheading these dual yet psychologically linked campaigns,' Kelly said. The Labor Party argues that as the election approaches, voters will turn away from events beyond Australia and concentrate on issues that affected their lives, such as health, education and the economy. Labor also points out that the Government has only a slim, seven-seat majority that could easily be overturned. Senior Labor politician Bob McMullan said: 'Once the public focuses on schools, hospitals and jobs, there is a deep sense of anger. That hasn't disappeared because of the boat people or war on terror.' Many political analysts say opposition leader Kim Beazley is a hostage to events beyond his control. In recent weeks some have said he has appeared weak and vacillating. Even Mr Beazley has admitted there are problems. 'We will start the underdogs - no doubt about that,' he said. If the present crisis continues, and if Australian special forces troops are involved in combat, Mr Howard will dominate news coverage. Channel 7 political correspondent Geof Parry said an American military strike would play into Mr Howard's hands, denying Labor the chance to advertise its domestic agenda. 'The whole atmosphere of overseas insecurity certainly works in Howard's favour,' he said. Even more galling for Mr Beazley than his opponent's political resurrection is the fact that if Mr Howard does win, he is unlikely to serve a full term. He has repeatedly hinted that he would stand down in mid-term and make way for his treasurer, Peter Costello, to become prime minister.