When Bob Katter announced last year that he would not back Labor in minority government, he suggested his decision would have been different had Kevin Rudd been leader.
Katter, a Queenslander who has known Rudd for two decades since the days they both kicked around state politics, said there was ''enormous anger'' over Rudd's dumping.
''Kevin's thinking and my thinking are very similar; I'm very good friends with him,'' said Katter.
Certainly Rudd, when prime minister, schmoozed Katter as much, if not more than, the other independent MPs in case Labor needed them after the election.
During those tortuous 17 days that followed last year's federal election, Rudd had Katter twice as a guest at his then Canberra apartment to pressure him to support Labor.
''He was very aggressive and very passionate, even though it might be the signing of his political death warrant,'' said Katter, who assumed at the time Labor would consolidate and grow under Gillard.
Katter's name is again on the lips of those in Labor who are canvassing scenarios for a leadership change and how to make it stick. The theory is that Rudd could call Andrew Wilkie's bluff and tell the Hobart independent MP that his poker machine reforms are unachievable - a move that would buoy a significant section of the backbench. If Wilkie made good his threat to withdraw his support for the government as a result, Katter would step up and preserve Labor's tenuous grip on a parliamentary majority.
He may not ally himself to the government per se, but would protect it from no-confidence motions.
Theoretically it is a plausible scenario, but unlikely.
Katter is as shrewd as he is eccentric. He still has as his test his list of 20 policy demands, of which Gillard met only one and Tony Abbott eight. And he also has his rapidly growing Australian Party, the supporters of which would not appreciate Katter allying himself to a Labor administration of any kind.
The Katter chatter illustrates the difficulties that would accompany a Rudd comeback, not to mention how the policy problems that seem so intractable under Gillard would remain unresolved under Rudd. The opposition believes there will be a quick election if Rudd takes over and questions about the independents and their loyalties will be largely academic.
Even putting aside the rabble that Labor would look like for dumping another prime minister, Rudd would need to change the story to carry through a campaign the surge in support that a leadership change would cause. When Rudd was replaced, Labor was at sea over climate change, asylum seekers and the mining tax. Only the last has lost its political potency since Gillard negotiated a watered-down version with the three big miners.
On climate change - the policy which caused the government's numbers to fall off a cliff and stay there - Rudd would have three choices. All are fraught. Assuming he took over early next year, after the legislation had passed, Rudd could choose simply not to proceed with the price on carbon. This might earn him a few votes from the right and the middle but the same people who stampeded away from him when he abandoned the emissions trading scheme as prime minster would do so again.
He could choose to stay the course - argue the principle and proceed with its implementation. Or he could put the tax on hold until or unless he received a mandate at the election.
The last option would be enormously risky given the demolition job Abbott already has done on the carbon tax proposal.
On asylum seekers, Rudd is trapped by his pledge the night before he was rolled to never lurch to the right. The boats are starting to arrive again at a steady clip and the political impasse that prevents any offshore processing ensures this remains the case. The business-as-usual approach that Rudd bequeathed with Christmas Island is not working.
All would make for an awkward first press conference in the event of a leadership change. Rudd immediately would be asked ''what are you going to do?''
There is an element of bravado to Abbott's indication that he does not fear a Rudd return because he has seen him off once before.
Abbott believes he has Gillard's measure. But he knows the huge risk in a switch to someone whom the polls suggest would generate a 15 percentage point jump in Labor's primary vote, even if ephemeral.
Just as interesting would be Abbott's opening lines if Labor changed leaders.
They would go something like this: the man torn from power less than 18 months ago because the government lost its way was now its salvation because the woman who replaced him lost her way. Best they all be given a spell in opposition to sort themselves out.
Phillip Coorey is The Sydney Morning Herald's chief political correspondent.