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Bennett's withdrawal means there are now nine people vying for the top Liberal job. She will support Bob Rae for leader. ((John Woods/Canadian Press))

Toronto MP Carolyn Bennettannounced on Friday that she'sdropping out of the Liberal leadership race and throwing her support behind former Ontario premier Bob Rae, saying he best representsthe values and priorities of her campaign.

"A lot of things, we see exactly the same way," she told CBC News on Friday. "The things I really care about, I think Bob Rae is without a doubt the best candidate to lead the party."

She said those values include an independent foreign policy and a "progressive vision of the country."

Bennett said Rae is ready to lead the country and fight the "retrograde policies of the Harper government in the next election.

"He gets it," she said, adding she was looking forward toworking withRae to"stop Steve."

Rae, NDP premier of Ontario from 1990 to 1995, is considered one of the front-runners for the leadership.

Bennett,a family physician,was one of three female candidates to join the leadership race and is the second contender to withdraw. Maurizio Bevilacqua, another former cabinet minister,pulled outduring the summer, also to support Rae.

On the same day Bennett made the announcement, the Globe and Mail published a lengthy article profiling her in which she gave no hint she was planning to quit the race.

She even expressed the hope that Gerard Kennedy, another leadership contender, would throw his support behind her if he decided to withdraw or was eliminated in voting at the convention.

9 vying for leadership

Bennett's decision means there are nine people vying for the top Liberal job.

The Liberalswillchoose a new leader on Dec. 3 in Montreal.

Bennett is the Liberal member for the Toronto riding of St. Paul's, having first been elected in 1997. She has kept the seat in the three elections since then. In Paul Martin's government, she was minister of state for public health.

She is also author of Kill or Cure? How Canadians Can Remake Their Health Care System, published in October 2000.

When Bennett announced her candidacy for the Liberal leadership in April, she said her preferred management style was at "the centre of a circle, not the top of a pyramid.

"There's no oxygen at the top of a mountain. It has to be in the grassroots, or in the valley where the people live."

Health care is one of her top priorities. "I want a Canada that keeps as many Canadians healthy for as long as possible, where clean air is more important than puffers and respirators."

In a candidates forum in Vancouver, she said the Liberal party needs a female leader because a woman at the helm would better understand the inequities facing Canadian women.

She reiterated Friday theimportance ofchallenging traditional perceptions of women inParliament.

"I think my campaign has been a positive influence on how people see women in politics,"she told the CBC.

The two women remaining in the race are Toronto lawyer Martha Hall Findlay and Vancouver MP Hedy Fry.

With files from the Canadian Press