(Cross-posted to Centrerion)
As the political veteran of this race, Bob Rae's appeal has been obvious - he is the most experienced of any candidate in the realm of public policy and governance, and at the same time, he is free from the burden of ugly sponsorship mess, at least as free as Michael Ignatieff and Gerard Kennedy. Rae is one of the four candidates with a serious chance of winning the leadership, and given that just a year ago many people dismissed him out of hand as too controversial in Ontario, he has come a long way.
Bob Rae is positioned well, about as well as could be expected. In stark contrast to Ignatieff's gaffe-ridden campaign, Rae's campaign has been absolutely flawless. This is to be expected from a 30-plus-year veteran of the political world; anything less would have been unacceptable. Rae is arguably the only other candidate besides Ignatieff who has a strong base in every region of the country; Stephane Dion has a recognizable base in every region, but not as large as Rae's. Rae is at the top of the not-Ignatieff contenders, and he and his team have been trying to get the idea out that he is the only one who can stop an Ignatieff victory.
They may be right, though many people still question the wisdom of a Rae-led Liberal Party, but many - including myself - underestimated him. Of course, people are starting to wisen up. Arrogant Tories love to dismiss Rae out of hand, citing his term as premier of Ontario as proof that he will be easy to eviscerate in an election, but a lot of Tory insiders and even the rank and file are starting to fear a Bob Rae Liberal party. Remember, the people who hate Rae's Ontario record the most tend to be conservatives and Tory partisans, not exactly the best indicators of the mood of predominantly middle-of-the-road Ontario. And a flawlessly executed campaign is nothing to sneer at.
Of course, critics are quick to point out that the reason Rae has been gaffe-free is because he hasn't actually said anything. It's not an unfair criticism. Rae has essentially been running on his experience in contrast to his main rival and former roommate, who has none. Rae has been choosing his words carefully, trying to appeal to a broad spectrum of Liberals, the latest example being that he "won't oppose" recognizing Quebec as a nation. Carefully chosen words, those are. None of this is too surprising - Rae's campaign is being managed by his brother John Rae, the architect of Jean Chretien's three middle-of-the-road-appeal victories.
There are some significant knocks against Bob Rae. Unlike Ignatieff, Rae was actually scouted to run for the party in 2006 and 2004, and he refused both opportunities. If Rae had run in 2004, he almost certainly would have served in cabinet, thus giving him the Liberal credentials he would have needed to mount a more credible bid. I have no doubt that if Rae had run in 2004, he would be the front-runner today. The fact that he refused two opportunities to run for the party he wants to lead is a bit of a sore point for many Liberals, and understandably so.
What Bob Rae's candidacy comes down to is this: he's an experienced and formidable political veteran who ironically is the least Liberal candidate of the field. Say what you will about Ignatieff, he didn't donate money to NDP candidates in the last election. These are the two factors delegates considering him will have to weigh. How well Rae does will depend on how many delegates are willing to overlook his past, both recent and from the last century.