When Hilary Benn first entered the race for Labour's deputy leadership, there was near-universal agreement among the pundits that he had immediately become the man to beat, such is the breadth of his appeal in the party. Although essentially a man of the "soft left" by background, the International Development Secretary was also expected to garner support from Blairites impressed by his modernising credentials as well as old-style lefties with a sentimental attachment to the Benn name.
His popularity among ordinary party members seemed to be borne out by (admittedly totally unscientific) online polls such as the one carried out on this blog and another currently running on the Political Penguin blog, both of which show Benn and Jon Cruddas as the clear frontrunners.
But if those polls are in any way representative, there would appear to be a clear discontinuity between the views of Labour MPs and the views of the party's grassroots members on the deputy leadership issue. According to this story in yesterday's Times, it is Alan Johnson who is making the running in the PLP, with Benn struggling even to get his name on the ballot paper.
I've no reason to doubt the truth of this, but what it highlights are the complexities of trying to predict an election involving an electoral college made up of three very distinct parts, particularly where one of those constituent parts (the MPs) has the ability to kill a challenge.
The general consensus about Benn seems to be that if he does get on the ballot paper, he will do well, and could still win. But if he doesn't, and Peter Hain does, the Northern Ireland Secretary could well end up hoovering up the soft-left votes that might otherwise have gone to Benn.
Others have made the point that if the May elections go spectacularly badly for Labour, it will further strengthen the hand of Cruddas, the anti-establishment candidate who has alreayd won significant union and grassroots backing.
This also has an impact on the ongoing speculation about the shape of Gordon's Cabinet. Benn says he's not interested in being "Deputy Prime Minister" but if he wins it would be hard for Brown to deny him the Foreign Office. Both Hain and Johnson though seem more keen on the DPM title.
To complicate matters even further, there are rumours that Caroline Flint is also preparing to run. To which I can only say, bring it on, Caroline!