10/29/2014 11:42 EDT | Updated 12/29/2014 05:59 EST

Ontario Progressive Conservatives brace for possible Doug Ford leadership bid

TORONTO - The possibility that Doug Ford could run for the leadership of Ontario's Progressive Conservatives had party members buzzing Wednesday, with some saying he would be a formidable candidate.

After losing the mayor's race to former PC leader John Tory, Ford told radio station NewsTalk 1010 that he was considering a run to become the next provincial Conservative leader, replacing Tim Hudak.

"There's certain values that have fallen by the wayside, and we have to start focusing on attracting everyone to the party," he said. "Common people that are fiscally conservative, but you have to have a social conscience."

Hudak, who stepped down in June after the party's second consecutive election loss to the Liberals under his leadership, said Ford "displayed a lot of formidable political talent in the campaign" for Toronto mayor.

"Doug ran a hell of a campaign," said Hudak. "He's a real talent."

However, Hudak drew the line at offering up his seat in Niagara West-Glanbrook so Ford could run in a byelection to get a seat in the legislature.

"Holy smokes this progressed pretty fast," he told reporters. "What do I think of this, and all of a sudden I'm giving up my seat? No."

Leadership candidate Lisa MacLeod declined to comment on Ford's possible candidacy, saying she was focused on her own campaign. However, rival Monte McNaughton admitted the party needed to sign up new members, something he believes Ford would be very successful at doing.

"Anything that we can do as a party to raise the profile of the race to attract new members would be a good thing," McNaughton told reporters. "Just over 10 years ago we had 100,000 members. Today we're down to 10,000 members."

Other PC caucus members ducked the issue, not wanting to comment publicly on Ford but saying privately that he is a polarizing figure who could draw a lot of attention _ good or bad _ to the leadership race.

Conservative insiders who spoke on condition of anonymity because they support other leadership candidates said Ford could be a serious contender because of the party's one-member one-vote system.

Each of the five declared candidates is already out selling $10 memberships to the party, and whichever signs up the most new members stands the best chance of winning the leadership.

The Tories have no seats in Toronto, where Ford captured over 330,000 votes Monday and could have a real advantage in the seat-rich city. Ford entered the mayoral race after his notorious brother Rob dropped out after being diagnosed with a rare from of cancer.

One PC party veteran said Ford would "absolutely be a credible candidate," especially with his talk about broadening the party's traditional base.

However, another longtime Conservative said party members would be leery of taking a risk on a man many consider to be too brash for mainstream politics.

"I think there is far too much history on the Ford family experience at city hall that it would be a huge hill to climb in the next few months of a leadership to get away from it," said the PC insider. "I can't see PC party members wanting to take that considerable risk."

Many provincial Tories privately breathed a sigh of relief last spring when Doug Ford decided not to try to become a PC candidate for the Ontario election so he could instead manage his brother's re-election campaign for mayor of Toronto. They were worried the media side-show that follows the Fords could have hurt other PC candidates.

Would-be candidates to replace Hudak have until the end of January to officially declare their intentions. Voting for the new Progressive Conservative leader will take place next May.

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