The NDP leadership race officially kicked off Wednesday with a rising party star announcing his candidacy.
However, a week after Gary Doer stunned the province -- and his party -- with the news that he was stepping down after a decade as premier, the field of candidates who will vie to replace him is still largely unknown.
Andrew Swan, a lawyer who has held the relatively junior portfolio of Competitiveness, Trade and Training for the past year and a half, became the first to take the plunge, announcing he will run to succeed Doer as leader at a convention in Winnipeg Oct. 17.
The five-year MLA has considerable caucus support, with a half-dozen members attending his announcement at the West End Cultural Centre Wednesday, including three cabinet ministers.
Meanwhile, two party heavyweights, considered top-flight contenders, bowed out of the race Wednesday, while several other potential front-runners, including Finance Minister Greg Selinger, kept their silence.
Health Minister Theresa Oswald announced she would not run because of family reasons and her commitment to guiding the government's response to a looming H1N1 flu pandemic. Her decision makes it unlikely that a high-profile female candidate will contest the leadership.
Family Services Minister Gord Mackintosh, who was the focus of intense internal lobbying over the weekend to consider running, also confirmed Wednesday that he will not be a candidate.
That could leave the race for leader as a competition between Swan, Selinger and Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Steve Ashton, who is also believed to be interested in running.
"You've heard Gary Doer say he's not a sprinter, he's a marathoner. I can understand that better than most," said Swan, who has run half-marathons.
"I'm not a sprinter either... but I think I can get the job done for today, for tomorrow and for the long term as we work together to build a better province."
Swan, who resigned his cabinet post Wednesday, presented himself as someone who is open to ideas and who will build upon the centrist foundation laid down by Doer.
"Frankly, if I'm leader of this party and premier of this province, I don't care where you come from, I don't care which party allegiance you may hold or what you may have said or done. If you have a good idea, we're prepared to listen, if you're interested in building a better province."
Among the caucus members standing behind Swan Wednesday were five female caucus colleagues: Oswald, Labour Minister Nancy Allan, Erin Selby (Southdale), Sharon Blady (Kirkfield Park) and Bonnie Korzeniowski (St. James).
Allan, who co-chaired Gary Doer's campaign for the leadership 21 years ago, said she is "broken-hearted" that no prominent women appear to be vying for the leadership.
"We thought that this was going to be our time," she told reporters. But she said Swan has shown himself to be supportive of gender issues as a cabinet colleague.
She also said he is a "calm" influence who is unlikely to stir up old animosities between business and labour.
Blady, a member of the Class of '85 at Silver Heights Collegiate along with Swan and Conservative Leader Hugh McFadyen, said Swan, 41, brought "compassion and integrity" to his 14-year family law practice before entering politics, and he represents the NDP's "next generation."
Oswald, who has a son who will turn four next month, said the timing of the leadership race wasn't right for her.
"It's just not the time to be walking away from this portfolio," the health minister said.
Mackintosh, who said Wednesday he is "leaning" towards supporting Swan in the leadership race, did not covet the party leadership, preferring a role of "team-building and mentorship" within government.
"That's my groove, and, if I'm allowed, I'd like to continue to fulfil that kind of role on the team here."
The Andrew Swan file:
Personal: The 41-year-old lawyer was born and raised in Winnipeg and attended Silver Heights Collegiate. He and his wife Tamsin have daughters aged nine and 11.
Professional: Practised family law with the local firm Thompson Dorfman Sweatman from 1990 until his election to the legislature in 2004.
Political: Has been an NDP member for more than half his life, working security at the door the night Gary Doer was elected party leader in 1988. First elected as MLA for Minto in the 2004 byelection and re-elected in 2007. Joined cabinet as Competitiveness, Training and Trade Minister in February 2008.
Factoid: Finished in 508th place in this year's Manitoba half-marathon with a time of 1:50:57.