No one ever doubted Kevin Rudd's grand ambitions. Likewise, nobody ever thought to stop him on the way to the top. The Australian Labor Party's new leader is among the hardest working members of federal Parliament. And he's never met a TV camera or radio microphone he couldn't love. Clever? Let Rudd set you straight, on any topic from Asia to Zion. That he was not a creature of Labor's factions or a pol-bot molded by the unions, did not in the end harm the 49-year-old Queenslander in a below-the-radar quest to lead his party. On Monday morning Rudd defeated Kim Beazley by 49 votes to 39. Rudd promised his colleagues "a new leadership style, with fresh ideas, fresh vision and fresh energy." Opinion polls suggested that the relatively little-known former diplomat was seen as a better electoral prospect than Beazley, especially in closely contested seats. Beazley had lost general elections against Prime Minister John Howard in 1998 and 2001. After trying to wrest the leadership during his wilderness years, Beazley finally regained it in 2005. Despite a more vigorous and disciplined approachhe lost weight and spoke more directlyBeazley 2.0 was unable to inspire his own caucus or switch voters onto an emerging platform of traditional social-democratic policies. It's not clear what Rudd can do differently, other than offering a new face to voters. So far, he's stayed close to Labor's anodyne talking points about fairness in the workplace, better health and education services and a cleaner environment. A foreign affairs and trade specialist, Rudd is well traveled and speaks Mandarin. Elected to Parliament in 1998, Rudd came to prominence this past year through his pursuit of the Howard government over wheat exporter AWB's abuse of the Iraqi oil-for-food program. Rudd is a Christian who is comfortable speaking about his faith. His early life was thrown into turmoil when his farmer father was killed in a car accident before Rudd reached his teens. He went to university in Canberra and majored in Asian studies, becoming a sinologist and foreign affairs official. Not naturally gregarious, seen by his party pals as aloof and academic, Rudd has worked hard to raise his profile at grass-roots level. In recent months Rudd has also written long articles about theology and political philosophy; he's not ashamed of raising ideas or going into enemy territory to provoke critics. In a speech last month to the Center for Independent Studies, a Sydney free-market think tank, Rudd politely ripped into the group's spiritual godfather, Friedrich von Hayek, who had no place in his schema for social justice: "I believe the center of gravity of Australian politics has always had about it a deep skepticism about fundamentalist ideologies of either the right or the left." Does the moderate, smooth and dapper Rudd have the common touch? An election is due by late 2007. The Howard government has been under pressure for its part in President George W. Bush's coalition in Iraq and also because of several rises in interest rates. Rudd is the fourth Labor leader Howard has faced in three years. The P.M. always appeared comfortable rumbling with Beazley, less so against the maverick Mark Latham, who assumed the Labor leadership in 2003 at a similar point in the electoral cycle. With a new deputy leader, Julia Gillard, 45, Labor's first couple is raw, untried and energetic. But Rudd is in a hurry. Are his colleagues, the media and voters ready for the ride?