John Hemming's dream of leading the Liberal Democrats has ended - for now.
The Birmingham MP announced he was pulling out of the contest to succeed Charles Kennedy after commissioning an opinion poll which found he lacked the support to win.
But Mr Hemming (Lib Dem Yardley) suggested he might try again once he had more experience as an MP.
He said: "Now is the end of this particular campaign."
The poll found a majority of party members approved of his campaign so far, believing it had helped ensure activists were given a choice in the leadership contest.
When Mr Kennedy resigned, after admitting his problems with alcohol, some Lib Dem MPs predicted his deputy, Sir Menzies Campbell, could be elected unopposed.
Mr Hemming's leadership bid was prompted partly by a desire to avoid a so-called coronation, and give party activists a say in a contested election.
Since then, other candidates including Lib Dem Home Affairs spokesman Mark Oaten, party President Simon Hughes and Treasure spokesman Chris Huhne, have also thrown their hat in the ring.
The contest is now wide open, after Sir Menzies performed badly in the eyes of many commentators when questioning the Prime Minister in the House of Commons on Wednesday.
Mr Hughes, who is on the left of the party and has a strong following among the membership, has become the favourite, according to bookmakers.
A survey commissioned by Mr Hemming from leading pollsters YouGov found that 64 per cent of party members think he was right to announce his plans to stand.
But it also revealed only 14 per cent believed he had the experience needed to run the party, and 58 per cent believed he should withdraw.
Mr Hemming said he took heart from the finding that 31 per cent of members believed he should continue to fight and eight per cent were planning to vote for him, but he had decided to pull out.
He said: "This, therefore, shows that members back my decision to not further my candidature - this time."
Mr Huhne launched his bid for the Liberal Democrat leadership declaring it was "the year of the outsider".
Although 51-year-old Mr Huhne has only been in Parliament since the last election, he spent six years as a Euro MP and is one of the party's key thinkers.
He pointed to David Cameron's success in the Tory leadership election, and insisted he had the experience to lead the Lib Dems.
"That is two years more experience than the recently-elected leader of the Conservative Party," he said.
Sir Menzies stepped up his campaign, ruling out coalition talks with Labour or the Tories if he won the leadership of the Lib Dems.
Opponents have raised concerns about Sir Menzies' views on a pact because of his involvement with Paddy Ashdown's doomed "project" of a possible Lib-Lab coalition.
But he said he would not even consider a deal with either of the other parties.
On Thursday, Mr Hughes vowed to unite the party and bring greater success at the ballot box as he launched his bid for the leadership.
Earlier in the week, Mr Oaten said he wanted to make the Lib Dems a "truly modern 21st century party" by making their principles relevant to today's voters.
To stand, candidates must have the backing of at least seven MPs and backing from a range of local associations.
Mike Hancock, MP for Portsmouth South, is reported to have signed several nomination forms because he wants to ensure a "proper contest".