My one encounter with Gary Doer came when he visited the National Post's editorial board. It wasn't exactly the most friendly venue for a New Democrat, but it proved a perfect one for him to demonstrate what's made him so successful a provincial politician.
Beforehand, the board was much more excited about meeting with Bernard Lord, with whom Doer was traveling. Lord was still New Brunswick premier at the time, and more importantly - to that crowd, at least - he was still supposed to be one of the country's most promising conservative leaders.
By the time we left the room, it was Doer everyone was talking about.
Lord had seemed nervous, even a little shifty, watching every word about federal-provincial relations carefully and giving as many non-answers as real ones. Doer was the opposite - utterly comfortable in his own skin, and capable of delivering thoughtful, seemingly off-the-cuff answers to every question. He was pragmatic enough to have National Post heads nodding in agreement, and charismatic enough to completely overshadow the better-known premier.
None of this is to say that Doer has been a perfect premier; many Manitobans, no doubt, could provide a lengthy list of shortcomings. (I'll leave the discussion of those, along with his accomplishments, to those who keep more regular watch on that province.) But it's not hard to understand why he consistently polls higher than his party - and why he'd be the federal NDP's dream leader, if he could somehow be talked into making the leap.
Not every New Democrat would necessarily think so. Some of the more traditional types from the provinces where the NDP remains mostly a protest party - Ontario, most notably - would think Doer was a Liberal in socialist's clothing. But if the party is going to try to take advantage of Jack Layton's efforts to professionalize it, it needs a new leader who can make use of that apparatus to take it to the next level. Doer is probably the one high-profile New Democrat in the country who fits the bill.
Just because he's leaving provincial politics doesn't mean Doer is any closer to taking up an Ottawa residence. After running a government for a decade, and leaving on his own terms, he can no doubt think of many things he'd sooner do than lead the fourth party in the House of Commons - a fourth party made up partly of people who think trying to win constitutes selling out.
But if ever there were a time for a draft campaign, this would be it. Layton himself, if he's serious about making something of the party he's rebuilt, should be on the phone to him.
UPDATE Let this be a lesson about interrupting your holidays to blog. On the bright side, the traits described above will serve Doer especially well in his new gig.