Bob Rae said Friday he will be a candidate for the Liberal leadership and strongly rejected persistent rumours that he was backing away from a run at the party's top job.

"I have every intention of being a candidate, I have expressed that very directly to my leader, Mr. Dion," Rae told CTV's Mike Duffy Live on Friday afternoon.

Rae has reportedly sent a letter to Dion asking that he be relieved from his duties as foreign affairs critic, so he could concentrate on his leadership run.

Rae has also started to mobilize his campaign machinery, and he held a conference call Friday afternoon with about 60 organizers from across the country.

"Our campaign will be stronger, better organized than it was last time, and we're going to win. I'm looking forward to it very much," he said, referring to his unsuccessful bid for party leader in 2006.

Rae was forced to announce his intentions because of swirling rumours suggesting he was having second thoughts about entering the leadership fray.

"This is absolute nonsense," Rae said. "It is not worthy of the political process."

Some of Rae's strategists believe the rumours are being spread by supporters of potential leadership rivals Michael Ignatieff and John Manley, The Canadian Press reported.

Dion announced he would step aside as party leader after the Liberals suffered a drubbing during the Oct. 14 general election, losing 19 seats.

Rae was a frontrunner in the December 2006 leadership race. Michael Ignatieff, another former leadership contender, hasn't yet announced his intentions to run, but his candidacy is seen as all but certain.

Rae said he didn't announce his intentions earlier out of respect for his party and the political process.

"People should never confuse a sense of decency with anything about hesitation," Rae said, adding that he worked "flat out" for Dion during the election campaign.

Rae also deflected criticism about his political past as an Ontario NDP premier during a long economic slump in the 1990s.

"People say, 'well, Bob Rae has a history,' and I just say 'you're damn right I have a history,'" he said.

"I've worked very hard in public life in this country for 30 years."

Meanwhile, CTV's parliamentary correspondent Roger Smith said that Rae and his supporters are already "trying to seize momentum" and are attracting new recruits.

These include:

  • Karl Littler -- a key former organizer for Paul Martin, who will be running Rae's Ontario campaign
  • John Duffy -- another top Martin strategist
  • Sen. Sharon Carstairs - former head of the Liberal campaign in Manitoba, who supported Ken Dryden in the last leadership race

Smith said the Rae camp believes he will get more support from the Liberal caucus this time around.