This morning, I theorized that the political fortunes of the NDP and the Libs will make for an interesting test case on the relative importance of leadership politics and party planning. But let's note part of the reason why Rae holds a relatively strong position within the Libs - and what it might mean in the years to come.
Again, I tend toward the view that a huge part of Jack Layton's current level of popularity can be traced to the fact that he was able to build his reputation over a period of years without facing the attack ads flying back and forth between the Cons and Libs. And now that Layton has built his public image to a level far beyond that of Stephen Harper, any attempt to tear him down may well do more harm than good for the party trying to launch attacks - meaning that the work put into building up Layton's reputation has served to substantially negate one of the Cons' favourite strategies.
In contrast, there can't be much doubt that a new permanent leader for the Libs (or the NDP if Layton steps down) will face the same type of smear attempt by the Cons that Stephane Dion and Michael Ignatieff experienced. But the Cons have quite understandably concluded that attack ads against an interim leader of the third party aren't worth their time - which looks like an elementary exercise in efficient resource allocation.
That is, as long as Rae's leadership is indeed on an interim basis. But let's ask rhetorically: what happens if by the time the Libs enter into their leadership campaign, Rae has managed to focus on developing his own image (which is of course one of the few areas within his control) to the point where he's seen as being substantially inoculated against possible Con attacks, while the rest of the party's leadership contenders face the virtual certainty of being defined by the Cons in a massive ad buy which the Libs can't afford to counter?
Of course, the above isn't to say that there's any scheme on Rae's part to turn his interim leadership into a permanent one - a possibility which has obviously been a bone of contention within the Libs. But it seems entirely plausible that his interim role might unintentionally provide a way out of the trap the Libs otherwise face.