John speaks French, he’s smart, political and didn’t get into any trouble as a minister. He knows how to run government … What else do we want?’

John Baird has not said no. Political allies trying to convince the former minister to enter the Conservative leadership race say he is leaning against a bid but can’t bring himself to close the door.

“It’s possible but it’s a long-shot,” said one person with knowledge of his thinking.

When Peter MacKay handed in the $300,000 entry fee and 3,000 signatures of support nearly two months ahead of the party’s deadline, he painted a giant target on his back.

It was a bold move, bordering on arrogance, that sent out the message to other candidates that the former justice minister is in a league of his own when it comes to fund-raising and organizing. He has built solid support in caucus, with around 20 MPs coming out in his favour.

But his early move has also galvanized resistance among party members who want another top level challenger to emerge – particularly those in the West who feel disengaged from the contest.