When he won the race to become Italy's center-left candidate for next year's general elections, Pier Luigi Bersani said his Democratic Party would have to win by telling "the truth, not fairy tales" about the country's dire economic state.
Bersani appeared to honor that promise when he said on Monday he would continue along the path of reforms begun by Mario Monti, who announced he would step down before the end of the year.
According to media reports on Tuesday, Monti was in talks with centrist parties who are urging him to reconsider and stand for election in early 2013. But in the meantime Bersani has become the most likely contender to take over from Monti.
That's because a poll at the end of November showed his Democratic Party had widened its lead over Berlusconi's People of Liberty party.
(Read More: Italy's Berlusconi Attacks 'Germano-Centric' Monti)
Born in September 1951 in Bettola in Northern Italy, Bersani's relatively humble background – his father was a mechanic - is part of his appeal, analysts say, especially in light of his key opponents – the "cavalier" Berlusconi and the comedian Beppe Grillo who leads the "five star movement" which trailed third in the opinion polls.
Much has been made of Bersani's former communist credentials, but analysts say this is not at all unusual for Italy and reflects a feature of Italian politics: it never really got over the communist versus fascist debate.
Bersani, who is married and has two daughters, studied philosophy at Bologna university and served as industry minister from 1996, followed by a stint as transport minister.
(Read More: Monti in Talks to Run for Italian PM)
David Lea, Western Europe Analyst at Control Risks said he was "a very capable politician, quietly effective, but not an inspirational campaigner. He is not an orator or a charismatic character."
But Bersani's presence does raise a few questions, he said. Bersani will have two populist candidates running against him, which will complicate the task of sticking to the budget commitments made by Monti and transferring them into policy.
"Even if he wins the election, forming a government will not be easy," Lea said. He questioned whether Bersani could lead such tough negotiations.