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Update: Well, that was quick. Just put everything below in the past tense, then.


John Manley is a smart guy with more federal experience than the current Liberal leadership candidates put together, which explains why some of my colleagues think it's a good idea for him to throw his hat into the ring. But it's also why it's extremely difficult to see him actually going through with it.

Leadership campaigns are fought almost entirely on the ground. Gravitas, vision, experience - whatever Maney arguably brings to the table - are useful in getting you organizers. But once that's done, it's mostly up to those organizers to do their thing while you sit back and hope for the best. (This seems the appropriate place for a reminder, yet again, that the candidate who gave by far the worst convention speech won the last convention, defeating on the final ballot the guy who may well have given the second-worst convention speech.)

The problem for Manley is that too many of those organizers have already been claimed by Michael Ignatieff or Bob Rae. As a result, it will be extremely difficult for anyone who enters now to place any higher than third on the convention's first ballot.

That's not prohibitive for all candidates. Even with the way the last leader to finish third on the first ballot turned out, there remains a legitimate chance of someone coming up the middle again. But Manley is surely aware that he's not that person.

The way to come from behind to win a multi-ballot convention is by being the least offensive candidate - the one supporters of others knocked out of the race can live with. But it's highly unlikely that Manley would be most Liberals' second choice, or even their third one.

Whatever you thought of Manley's Afghanistan panel, understand that many card-carrying Liberals think he betrayed them by playing nice with Stephen Harper. That's on top of those who already thought he was just too conservative. And for all the things he's good at, it's hard to imagine Manley being in any way capable of positioning himself as a loveable underdog on the convention floor.

In fact, Manley wouldn't just need to somehow outhustle Ignatieff and Rae on the ground heading into the convention; he'd have to be over 40% on the first ballot to get past an "Anybody But Manley" movement that would inevitably pop up.

It's unlikely anyone, let alone him, will top that benchmark. To avoid damaging the impressive brand he's built for himself since leaving government, the smart move is to keep his distance.

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