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The Liberal leadership was Michael Ignatieff's to lose. A couple of bumps on the road -- in Senator David Smith's delicately chosen words -- kept it a slim 220 votes beyond his grasp.

He had polls showing he was electable as a party leader. He had more support from the party establishment and the Liberal parliamentary caucus than any other candidate.

He had brains, articulateness, sophistication, photogenic good looks, an aura of excitement and newness. He came a long way in 11 months. He even learned how to call himself Iggy. And wear better suits.

"I think we did everything right that we could do. I don't think we did anything wrong. I have no regrets about anything," Ian Davey, Mr. Ignatieff's campaign manager, said yesterday. "It's just that there were more things right about Stéphane."

But Mr. Ignatieff never shook off his verbal stumbles -- the bumps in the road that Mr. Smith, his campaign co-chairman, talked about Saturday night after the final ballot results were posted -- particularly his comments on the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict and his equivocation over whether he'd run again for Parliament if he lost the leadership vote.

"You know, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, there were a couple of references that made some people a little nervous because they didn't completely understand what he'd said," Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Ignatieff, as well, could not completely overcome the tag of being the outsider in the Liberal family. His strategists fell short of projecting an unalloyed image of him as the progressive left-of-centre candidate who would storm Canada's future with a renewed and revitalized party behind him. Mr. Smith called this one of the frustrations of the campaign.

Mr. Ignatieff's convention speech, praised by political gurus as masterful, fell flat with too many delegates. The idea was that the speech -- and particularly his carefully crafted dramatic delivery -- would make him look prime ministerial, look like a leader, un chef. The idea was that the music of his image would be more important than the words, as one of the key members of his campaign team put it.

But there were women delegates who thought he looked menacing. And others who read into his speech a presumptuous tone of ownership of the party to which he was not entitled.

"There were people saying 'Who is this telling us what he's going to do with the party?' " said Patrick Gossage, a Toronto political consultant and Ignatieff supporter.

"Even though he was supported by the party establishment he nevertheless was an outsider, and he never successfully dealt with the labels the media put on him that he'd been away for 30 years. The Liberals are a family, they really are a family."

When former prime minister Jean Chrétien ignited a prolonged roar of approval from delegates Saturday night by reminding them that his government had kept Canada out of the Iraq war, it must have sounded to Mr. Ignatieff like a drumbeat on his political coffin. He had supported the U.S. invasion as a Harvard academic before returning to Canada.

And the youth delegates from Gerard Kennedy's camp that the Ignatieff people were counting on harvesting stayed surprisingly loyal to Mr. Kennedy. When he declared support for Stéphane Dion, his delegates went with him. Mr. Davey acknowledged that this was a key moment.

And there were delegates from other camps complaining that the Ignatieff campaign was a little too efficient. They protested against being too aggressively harassed by Ignatieff organizers trying to win their support.

Mr. Ignatieff's future?

The Toronto MP declined to meet with journalists after the vote. The one member of his inner circle to address the subject was his brother, Andrew, who was at his side throughout the balloting.

"He's a person with a very clear sense of who he is and what he wants to be, and what he wants to be is involved in Canadian politics. I'm sure he'll find a political niche for himself. He's committed to staying here."


Patrick Gossage remained uncommitted during the Liberal leadership campaign. Incorrect information appeared yesterday.

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