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OTTAWA (Reuters) - The race to lead Canada's battered Liberal Party slowly gathered pace on Thursday when former Harvard academic Michael Ignatieff became the third and most likely the last contender to declare he was running.
The Liberals badly lost the October 14 general election and trail the ruling Conservatives in opinion polls.
In the wake of the defeat, Liberal leader Stephane Dion announced he would quit once a replacement had been chosen.
Whoever wins at next May's leadership convention in Vancouver, British Columbia, has a major task on his hands: the party is in the middle of a financial crisis and its once powerful wing in French-speaking Quebec is in disarray.
Ignatieff, 61, came second to Dion in the last leadership race in 2006, in part because delegates were suspicious of the fact that he had only recently returned to Canada after almost three decades in Britain and the United States.
"I think the ballot question the last time was 'Who the hell does he think he is?'" Ignatieff told a news conference.
"The ballot question now is 'I know this guy. He's been in the trenches with me, he's come to help me finance my campaign ... (People) know me. They see I don't have two horns and a tail," he said.
His main rival is fellow federal legislator Bob Rae, 60, who had an unhappy stint as premier of the province of Ontario in the 1990s when he was a member of the left-leaning New Democratic Party.
The other contender is Member of Parliament Dominic LeBlanc, 40. He is the son of Romeo LeBlanc, a former governor general -- the representative of Canada's head of state, Queen Elizabeth.
Several other high-profile Liberals, most notably former Deputy Prime Minister John Manley and former New Brunswick Premier Frank McKenna, have announced they will not be running.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson