A clutch of little-known long-shots is rushing in where Liberal luminaries fear to tread.

Justin Trudeau's presumed lock on the federal Liberal leadership race has scared off some would-be big-name rivals; the party's dismal third-place standing has rendered the top job unappealing to others.

But some virtual unknowns aren't letting Trudeau's celebrity or the party's travails deter them.

Deborah Coyne, lawyer, public policy consultant and mother of Trudeau's half-sister, Ottawa lawyer David Bertschi and Vancouver Crown prosecutor Alex Burton are already touring the country, although the race doesn't officially begin until Nov. 14.

Toronto lawyer George Takach has assembled a campaign team, led by veteran organizer Mark Marissen, who orchestrated Stephane Dion's successful come-from-behind bid for the leadership in 2006.

A number of others are still mulling over their chances and could yet give the line-up some heft, including Liberal House leader Marc Garneau, Canada's first astronaut, former cabinet minister Martin Cauchon and Vancouver MP Joyce Murray.

Former MP Martha Hall Findlay, who finished last in the 2006 contest, is determined to take another run — provided she can pay off some $18,000 in debts remaining from her first stab at the party's top spot. She is feverishly trying to raise money.

But, apart from Trudeau, most Liberal notables are taking a pass. Erstwhile Liberal stars like former New Brunswick premier Frank McKenna and one-time deputy prime minister John Manley have ruled themselves out, as have most sitting MPs, including New Brunswick's Dominic LeBlanc and Nova Scotia's Scott Brison and Geoff Regan. Not to mention Bob Rae, the party's interim leader.

The dearth of star power has some Liberals casting about for a heavyweight who could pose a serious challenge to the Trudeau juggernaut.

There's a Facebook campaign to draft Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of Canada, despite his public denial of interest last spring. It's supported by the likes of Tim Murphy, one-time chief of staff to former prime minister Paul Martin.

And there's been increasing buzz of late about a campaign to draft Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty, although he too has repeatedly ruled himself out in the past.

So why would a bunch of unknowns jump in when so many higher-profile heavyweights won't?

Certainly, they have less to lose. Whereas a star candidate risks diminishing his or her reputation by finishing badly, a little-known long-shot can gain profile and kudos just by running a credible, if losing, campaign.

Hall Findlay, for instance, parlayed her spunky 2006 campaign into the offer of a safe Toronto seat, which she won in a 2008 byelection. She was re-elected in the subsequent general election that year but was defeated in the 2011 rout, which reduced the Liberals to a third-party rump.

Then, of course there's always the chance of scoring a stunning upset.

Dion did it in 2006 and, this time, the party has adopted a new process for selecting a leader that is even more encouraging to the proverbial dark horses, lessening the need for big financial and organizational muscle and doing away with the traditional delegated convention altogether.

This time, all party members — as well as anyone willing to register as a Liberal supporter, without having to pay a membership fee — will be entitled to vote in their ridings for the candidate of their choice. The results will be weighted to give each riding equal clout.

Those two changes "mean it won't work out the way people think," predicts Stephen Carter, who orchestrated the come-from-behind victories of Naheed Nenshi and Calgary's last mayoral contest and Alison Redford in the last Alberta election.

"This is the most interesting race in Canada right now."

Given his success with long-shot campaigns, it's little wonder Carter has been contacted by some putative Liberal leadership contenders, including Hall Findlay and Garneau. He is not, so far, involved.

Still, he's made it clear through blunt posts on Twitter that he thinks Trudeau, is "too shallow to be a leader" that "media blowhards" are "idiots" for assuming it will be a cake walk for the telegenic, eldest son of former prime minister and Liberal icon Pierre Trudeau.

Burton says the new process allows "a candidate like me, somebody who is, you know, an outsider, not part of that Ottawa bubble, to be competitive."

He launched Friday a five-week, cross-country tour in a motor home, planning to visit nooks and crannies that rarely see a Liberal. He is well aware that ridings with a few dozen Liberal supporters will be just as influential in determining the outcome of the race as those with thousands.

"I think it makes it easier for somebody who is prepared to do the heavy lifting and go to all those places and talk and listen to people there."

The stiff $75,000 entry fee set by the party — due in three instalments by mid-January — may yet deter one or more of the long-shot contenders.

In the meantime, Burton, like Hall Findlay and Takach, is positioning himself as the voice of so-called blue Liberals or business Liberals, emphasizing fiscal responsibility and prudent economic management. And like all the dark horses, he is promising to bring substance to the debate — implicitly suggesting that Trudeau does not.

Related on HuffPost:

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  • Liberal Leadership Race 2013

    Here are the remaining candidates for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.

  • Justin Trudeau

    Age: 40 Occupation: MP for Montreal-area riding of Papineau <a href="http://justin.ca/en/">Website</a>

  • Joyce Murray

    Age: 58 Occupation: Liberal MP for Vancouver Quadra, former B.C. Liberal environment minister <a href="http://joycemurray.liberal.ca/">Website</a>

  • Martha Hall Findlay

    Age: 53 Occupation: Former Liberal MP for Willowdale and 2006 leadership candidate <a href="http://www.marthahallfindlay.ca/">Website</a>

  • Martin Cauchon

    Age: 50 Occupation: Lawyer, former Montreal Liberal MP <a href="http://martincauchon.ca/">Website</a>

  • Deborah Coyne

    Age: 57 Occupation: Lawyer, professor <a href="http://www.deborahcoyne.ca/">Website</a>

  • Karen McCrimmon

    Occupation: A retired Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian forces and mediator. <a href="http://karenforcanada.ca/" target="_hplink">Website</a>


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  • 14. Canada's Paris Hilton

    "His resume is paper thin. He's truly the Paris Hilton. He was born into money, and a name, and that's about all he's done." - <a href="http://blogs.canoe.ca/lilleyspad/general/video-levant-and-lilley-on-trudeaumania-part-2/">Ezra Levant</a> (2:50 in video)

  • 13. Maygan Sensenberger?

    "Maybe Justin Trudeau won’t be Maygan Sensenberger to the Liberals’ Rod Zimmer. Maybe there’s a hidden depth beneath that glib exterior. Maybe he’s more mature than the MP with the Johnny Depp moustache who called the environment minister a 'piece of shit' during a heated moment in the House of Commons, and suggested that if Canada’s going to go the way of Stephen Harper 'maybe I would think about making Quebec a country.'" - <a href="http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/09/28/kelly-mcparland-liberals-transform-themselves-into-the-lindsay-lohan-party/">Kelly McParland</a>

  • 12. Curious Attire

    "Nothing riles Liberals more than the accusation that Justin’s nothing more than an empty suit – or whatever you call his often curious attire." - <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/second-reading/is-justin-trudeau-really-taken-seriously-by-his-own-party/article4575515/">Gerald Caplan</a>

  • 11. Adolescent Machismo

    "I found last March’s boxing match between Justin and a Conservative Senator to have been an embarrassing descent into adolescent machismo." - <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/second-reading/is-justin-trudeau-really-taken-seriously-by-his-own-party/article4575515/">Gerald Caplan</a>

  • 10. Delicate Princeling

    <i>On a protest in Toronto against the anti-Islam film the "Innocence of Muslims."</i> "You’d have thought that if a vigorous objection would be coming from anywhere, it would be coming from the Liberal Party of Canada. It didn’t, and it is even less likely that it soon will, now that the delicate princeling Justin Trudeau has unofficially declared his odds-on-favourite candidacy for the party leadership." - <a href="http://www.ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/only+Canada+liberal+party/7304311/story.html">Terry Glavin</a>

  • 9. Dabbler

    "Justin Trudeau is a dabbler – he dabbled in teaching, dabbled in the arts, dabbled in acting, dabbled in activism. Now he’s dabbling in politics." - <a href="http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/09/28/kelly-mcparland-liberals-transform-themselves-into-the-lindsay-lohan-party/">Kelly McParland</a>

  • 8. Handsome Young Thing A Bad Thing?

    "After running the country for most of the 20th century it’s morphing into the Lindsay Lohan of Canadian politics, constantly vowing to clean up its act, only to wake up with a headache and another charge on its rap sheet. The Liberals aren’t into drugs that I know of, but after three failed marriages, a stint in rehab and with its overall health in decline, it pledged to undertake a serious effort to re-establish itself as a mature, dependable party. Instead it’s plunging shamelessly into an affair with the handsome young thing with the dynamite hair." - <a href="http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/09/28/kelly-mcparland-liberals-transform-themselves-into-the-lindsay-lohan-party/">Kelly McParland</a>

  • 7. Thin Résumé, Low Bar

    "Mr. Trudeau brings a thin résumé. He has youth, a storied name, decent smarts and a certain something that makes people like him. That this may be enough speaks volumes about how low the bar is set for the job of Liberal leader." - <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/if-trudeau-leads-will-liberals-follow/article4570953/">John Ibbitson</a>

  • 6. That Johnny Depp Beard Again

    "A high school teacher when he wore a cropped version of a Johnny Depp beard, Justin reached out to the country only once before, at his father’s funeral: voicing the most poignant of the elegies, ending his prayer with the heart-rending, 'Je t’aime, papa.' Prayers will come in handy should he be charged with rescuing the Liberals, who haven’t been the country’s Natural Governing Party since Noah launched his ark." - <a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/09/18/trudeaus-big-leap/">Peter C. Newman</a>

  • 5. Going The Way Of Mulroney

    "Unless Justin as leader applies some harsh medicine to the remnants of the Liberal party, he will end up like Ben Mulroney, hosting entertainment shows. (Already the politician, Justin invited Ben to his wedding to glamorous CTV talk show correspondent Sophie Grégoire.)" - <a href="http://www2.macleans.ca/2012/09/18/trudeaus-big-leap/">Peter C. Newman</a>

  • 4. Cowboy Campaign Slogan?

    "What do you want me to be? A cowboy? I can do that! No? Something else? Name it? I was a drama teacher, so I can totally be what you need." - <a href="http://news.nationalpost.com/2012/09/26/post-approved-campaign-posters-slogans-for-justin-trudeaus-liberal-leadership-bid/">Steve Murray </a>

  • 3. Cut From The Same Cloth

    "Justin Trudeau and Justin Bieber have more in common than just a first name. Both guys are also adored by legions of love struck fans. Except in the case of Bieber the fans are teenage girls, whereas for Trudeau they are the Canadian media." - <a href="http://fullcomment.nationalpost.com/2012/09/27/gerry-nicholls-dear-media-will-you-and-justin-get-a-room-please/">Gerry Nicholls</a>

  • 2. The Shiny Pony Enters Horserace

    "Outside the Commons Wednesday, the son of Canada's most over-rated and historically-revised PM, the Shiny Pony, as Sun News Network refers to him mockingly, had his media fan club giggling like groupies at a Justin Bieber concert." - <a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2012/09/27/the-shiny-pony-enters-horserace">Sun News</a>

  • 1. Eulogy Maudlin, Sappy, Contrived

    "Eulogies aren’t easy, especially when they’re deeply personal. But I was among many who found his to be maudlin and sappy, contrived, almost embarrassing, the opposite of those who felt it soared to the heavens." - <a href="http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/second-reading/is-justin-trudeau-really-taken-seriously-by-his-own-party/article4575515/">Gerald Caplan</a>