FORMER Foreign Affairs Minister Micheal Martin last night claimed he had secured the support of a majority of the party's TDs to become the next leader.
"I'm confident and I've got a very positive response from the parliamentary party. Over half have already indicated their support to me," he told the Irish Independent.
Mr Martin raced ahead of his competitors in the leadership contest with a series of Fianna Fail TDs coming out to declare support for him.
Before he had even officially confirmed his entry into the race, Mr Martin had received public backing from up a dozen TDs, many based in Munster.
The ex-minister was on the phone yesterday lobbying support for his campaign from colleagues.
Declaring his intention to contest the leadership from his Cork South Central constituency, Mr Martin warned FF now desperately needed a dignified and respectful election campaign to determine who will succeed Taoiseach Brian Cowen.
The former cabinet minister, who resigned last week after failing to oust Mr Cowen in a confidence vote, is pitching himself as having an understanding of jobs and the economy, promoting reform of the political system and the rebuilding of the party.
Mr Martin said, given the short timeframe to the general election, he envisaged no difficulty with Mr Cowen serving as caretaker Taoiseach.
"I will be putting my name forward before the party -- and over the next coming days I will be entering into discussions with my colleagues and setting out my vision for the party and the country."
He denied suggestions that the fact Mr Cowen succeeded Bertie Ahern without a major electoral contest ultimately became a factor for him.
"I don't think that was an issue the last time -- I think there was a strong view that Brian Cowen would be the leader and an almost inevitability about it at the time. This time, I anticipate that there will be a contest."
"I read the situation and I felt at the time (in 2008) there were circumstances around that; I didn't go forward on that occasion.
"On this occasion I have served in a number of ministries and I have learned a lot through that experience. I do have an appetite and a hunger within me to go further and I think it would be a very challenging task and also a great privilege to lead the FF party. Therefore I decided, and said when questioned, that if a vacancy arose I would contest the leadership. That is what I am going to do."
Mr Martin paid tribute to Mr Cowen and said he had acted in the best interests of the party and country.
"It was a very difficult decision for the Taoiseach to take -- and I commend the approach he has taken. I think he has been very generous in putting the party first.
"I have always admired the Taoiseach -- I think he is a man of great honesty and integrity.
"He has made a distinctive contribution to Irish public life in the various ministerial portfolios that he has held and indeed as Taoiseach of the country."
Mr Martin said he only heard about the Taoiseach's press conference in the minutes before it happened as he was en route to Limerick to attend a Munster rugby match.
"I watched the press conference and I think he made some very important points in terms of the primacy of policy and also in terms of his commitment to work with the new leader of the party to ensure the orderly working of the Taoiseach and (new) party leader."