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Years abroad hurt candidate in Canada

Michael Ignatieff should have a lot going for him in his race to be Canada's next prime minister -- charismatic, telegenic, a public intellectual whose expertise on human rights has done his country credit.

But the Liberal Party leader has a problem -- he has spent about half his life abroad, and as Monday's election approaches, that absence has become one more burden weighing him down in the polls.

His Conservative Party opponents, favorites to win another term, are making relentless use of the more than 30 years he lived in Europe and the United States.

"Michael Ignatieff. Just visiting," goes one election ad. "Back in Canada. But for how long?" mocks another.

The verve and braininess that captivated Ignatieff's television audiences in Britain, or his students at Harvard, have failed to galvanize the fortunes of the Liberal Party that he took over in 2009.

Stephen Harper, prime minister since 2006, looks set to triumph again, and this time perhaps achieve the outright majority that so far has eluded him. If so, it will be the Conservative leader's third straight victory.

"Are we witnessing the strange death of Liberal Canada?" John Ivison, a respected political commentator, asked Tuesday in the online National Post. He wrote after EKOS, a private polling company, shocked Canadians by showing the Conservatives at 33.7 percent, the New Democratic Party at 28 percent and the Liberals at 23.7 percent, meaning Ignatieff wouldn't even serve as leader of the opposition in Parliament.

The surprise surge by the leftist New Democrats, the perennial wild card role of Quebec nationalists and Conservative policies that have allowed Canada to weather the worldwide recession in relatively good shape are working against Ignatieff, 63, even as he is remains relatively unknown to Canadians.

Toronto-born Ignatieff earned a doctorate in history from Harvard and has lectured at Oxford, Cambridge, the University of California at Berkeley and the London School of Economics. He hosted award-winning TV shows on the BBC and worked as a journalist in Rwanda and Kosovo. He has written 17 books and "The Russian Album," a critically acclaimed family history.

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