When Abdullah was on a surer footing after he announced his planned retirement in 2010, Mukhriz's star dimmed a little. But as the Premier struggles anew for his political survival, Mukhriz's fortunes have revived.
Mukhriz, 44, is far from a Mahathir clone, though. He's soft-spoken, but has shown himself to be steely in the face of fire.
"I hope I can bring a difference, a breath of fresh air. The party needs new direction. I would rate my chances as fair to good, though I won't say it's excellent," he says.
The Mahathir name will prove a burden, or advantage, that Mukhriz carries into battle.
"I don't even pretend to disassociate from him," says Mukhriz. "I can't. I do agree with many things he says, and I'm proud of him."
His father's legacy is not his, he says, but he is also aware that Umno may not mind having Dr Mahathir's firm hand pushing him along. At a time when the ruling coalition is panicking about the real threat posed by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, they yearn for the strong leadership Dr Mahathir once represented.
As such, he is astute enough not to play down his family name too much. It makes for a good contrast against Abdullah who is seen as weak.
It may also work against Khairy to have his father-in-law running for the top party post. One family holding two powerful positions gives off whiffs of dynasty- building.
Mukhriz alludes to that, saying: "If I went his way, I could be the party's deputy president by now."
But they are not close, given their 12-year age gap. Today, they have nothing but dislike for each other.
He made his entry into politics when his father retired in 2003, and rose swiftly up Umno Youth's ranks. He polled the highest number of votes in the last party elections for a committee member post.
He is equally blunt in saying that Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has very little time left to show his leadership qualities, and to take charge of a crumbling party.
Mukhriz says he is aware that Umno is seen as racist, corrupt and arrogant. And he thinks that race issues were badly handled when its leaders allowed emotion to drive the debate.
Umno Youth has traditionally been the radical arm of Umno; it's allowed that leeway and takes on a more distinctly Malay voice than its parent body.
Mukhriz takes the line that Malay rights must remain close to the heart of Umno Youth, but handled in a more delicate way. "Emotions are running high now. We want things to cool off, but at the right moment and place, we still need to address issues in a controlled manner," he says.
He believes that the fundamental positions taken by the government are not wrong, as Malay rights are written into the Constitution. But he insists that this can, in no way, infringe on the rights of other communities.
He is discreet enough not to criticise Education Minister Hishammuddin, who is likely to bid for a more senior post in the party polls. But Mukhriz makes it plain that he will not indulge in Malay rhetoric.
He uses the same word ~ "balance"- to talk about issues like freedom of speech and openness. To him, over-emphasis on individual rights can lead to a chaotic situation when there is an absence of leadership and vision.
He firmly believes that a moderate stance with strong Malay leadership is the most stable position. "Umno is still relevant. The BN is still the best formula," he maintains.
Anwar, he says, was winning the war only by default - because people disliked Umno. "He knows how to manipulate sentiments, and he benefits from it,"he says.