This sounds strange and a bit scary, but its true.

As of 12:05 p.m. Jan. 5, 2010, Lansing Mayor Virg Bernero became the frontrunner for the Democratic Partys gubernatorial nomination.

Lt. Gov. John Cherry announced he couldnt raise the money to be Michigans 48th governor. That left only four people standing: a waffling conservative House speaker, a pair of candidates whose campaigns havent crossed 2 percent in eight months and Bernero. And thats assuming former Michigan State University football coach George Perles isnt serious, which it doesnt appear he is.

Its not exactly a deep bench, and it doesnt seem to be getting any deeper with candidates who could give Virg a serious run.

Hours after Cherrys announcement, one state senator filed for a gubernatorial bid, and the Genesee County treasurer said hes thinking about it.

Ideally, Democrats would love to see a non-traditional candidate fill the Cherry void. Maybe their own independently wealthy candidate with some business background. But who?

Former U.S. Rep. David Bonior said hes not in, and former Gov. Jim Blanchard told me hes not thinking about it and doesnt plan on thinking about it. U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, has consistently said shes not interested.

Former Wayne County Prosecutor Mike Duggan has an unbreakable contract and a huge salary with the Detroit Medical Center and isnt available.

What about U.S. Rep. Bart Stupak, D-Menominee? And give up a lifetime job? Former Detroit Mayor Dennis Archer isnt interested, leaving Wayne County Executive Bob Ficano as the only legitimate maybe.

Shoot, we still dont know if the aforementioned House Speaker Andy Dillon, a former Republican, is interested in running.

No, as of right now, Bernero is the biggest fish in a very large pond. He knows it, and hes loving it. He said his cell phone is "blowing up" as interest in his inevitable campaign balloons.

When asked before his swearing-in ceremony for his second term as mayor on Tuesday how he sees his chances now that Cherry is out, he responded:

think my chances are pretty good. I think they were pretty good in the
first place, thats why Im looking at it," Bernero said. "Obviously,
John Cherrys exit from the governors race is a game changer. Its a
positive sign, and if I do choose to run, Id love to have Lt. Gov.
Cherrys support."

could change tomorrow if a bigname candidate jumps into the ring, but
every day that goes by without someone else getting into the race makes
Berneros chances of being the Democratic nominee that much greater.

It helps that the traditional manufacturing union groups arent opposed to Bernero. Despite
his well-documented tensions with city employee bargaining units, the
UAW still endorsed him, and his national support for the plight of
workers during the auto industry meltdown last year was seen from sea
to shining sea on cable TV.

Unlike Cherry, Bernero loves to campaign. He doesnt mind picking up the phone to raise money. He loves giving speeches, shaking hands, kissing babies. Hes good at it.

unlike Cherry and Dillon, Bernero can run against the state government
establishment in Lansing. He balanced budgets in Lansing without
raising taxes. He can say he made development happen in Michigan. And
he can do it all without a Gov. Jennifer Granholm albatross tied around
his neck.

across the state dont know much about Bernero, but hes right when he
says that it will give him an opportunity to define himself.

Michigan Republican Party is already trying to beat him to the punch.
In a press release issued today, the GOP have Bernero topping their
short-list of "minor league" candidates seeking the nomination.

describe Bernero as "a career politician, who bounced from county
commission to state House to state Senate then to mayor to escape term
limits. He is referred to as Americas Angriest Mayor. A major Granholm
supporter, he has a near perfect voting record in support of the
Granholm Administration. Think Howard DEAN meets Nancy PELOSI."

creative, but thin. Nearly everybody on the GOP side has been in
politics as long as Virg if not longer. Bernero had to vote with
Granholm for all of about three years. Its a bit different than
serving as the Govs wingman for eight years.

the meantime, Bernero is sharing the stage with Rep. Alma Wheeler
Smith, D-Salem Twp., and former Rep. John Freeman. Since last February,
neither has generated much support.

Sen. Hansen Clarke, D-Detroit, said today hes getting in. Its the
same Clarke who finished fourth in the Detroit mayoral primary four
years ago.

Berneros time to make his case for governor while the stage is
basically all his. Well see what he does with the opportunity.

Engler house hunting In Michigan

Former Gov. John Engler and
his wife have been house-hunting in the mid-Michigan area, multiple
sources have told MIRS, raising the speculation that Gov. Jennifer Granholms predecessor could be trying to establish residency in the Mitten State for a run at U.S. Senate seat in 2012.

lives in Washington, where he makes a reported seven-figure salary with
the National Association of Manufacturers. Englers triplets are
freshmen in high school — all three of them attending different schools.

could always run for the Senate without yanking his girls from schools,
but theres question as to whether Michelle Engler, or John for that
matter, wants to get back into the political fray.

All the while, scuttlebutt is turning up of U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, taking a stab at the U.S. Senate seat of Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing.
Rogers may be redistricted out of his congressional seat in two years,
and pitting a mid-Michigan Republican against Stabenow could neutralize
her support in the Lansing area.

(Kyle Melinn is news editor of the capital newsletter MIRS. E-mail him at melinn@