The only person who stands between Labour party president and former Galway West TD Michael D Higgins and the position of Uachtaráin na hÉireann is Sinn Féin’s Martin McGuinness.
With David Norris’ retirement from the race and unsuccessful recent attempts to seek a nomination to run, Mr Higgins has been emerging as the most popular candidate with the best chance of becoming the next head of State.
However Mr McGuinness’s dramatic entry into the race has shifted media attention towards the Derryman, who with his high profile and name recognition represents the biggest challenge to the Labour man’s campaign.
Despite this, Labour sources in Galway remain very confident Mr Higgins will prevail in the upcoming election, polling day for which is October 27.
“Michael D’s campaign has been going very well all over the country and his name recognition is very high,” a Labour source told the Galway Advertiser. “On the canvass in Dublin recently we have received positive feedback on Michael D and we are encouraged by all of this.”
Paddy Power has made Michael D the evens favourite to win the election, with Mr McGuinness on 9/4 and Fine Gael MEP Gay Mitchell on 4/1. The Independent candidates Mary Davis and Sean Gallagher are on 14/1 and 25/1 respectively.
Galway based former MEP Dana Rosemary Scallon is on 66/1 and so far only has Dep Mattie McGrath backing her. She needs another 19 TDs and/or senators to come out for her within the next week but this looks increasingly unlikely.
The Sunday Independent/Millward Brown poll of September 18, albeit conducted before Mr McGuinness’s entry, saw Dep Higgins on 32 per cent; with Gay Mitchell on 17 (down four ) and Mary Davis on 18 (up five ).
David Norris was given 18 per cent in the poll but Labour expect much of his potential/actual support will go to Mr Higgins, given that both men come from a similar liberal political/arts and culture perspective. However Labour sources acknowledge that Mr McGuinness is his main rival.
“Martin McGuinness will take some of his vote in the border counties and some of the Republican Fianna Fáil vote that would have gone to Michael D,” the source said. “He will also challenge Michael D for some of the left vote, but as the campaign goes on some of the shine will wear off McGuinness and people will look critically at who they want to be president and they will see Michael D.”
Mr Higgins’ ability to attract transfer votes from across the political divide will also come to his aid in the election. “Whatever votes he loses to McGuinness will come back to him through transfers and he will attract transfers from the other parties as well,” said the source.
Capturing the Dublin vote will also be important, but here Fine Gael’s Gay Mitchell, a native Dubliner could be the winner. However Labour feels Mr Higgins will do well in the capital given his national standing.
Interestingly Fine Gael sources have told the Galway Advertiser that the presidency “looks like being Michael D’s to lose” and they are concerned that MEP Mitchell’s campaign has “failed to ignite”.
“Gay Mitchell has not performed as well as we had hoped,” said the FG source. “He is still behind Michael D, and while McGuinness’ entry into the race will weaken him somewhat, you would still have to fancy Higgins to be the next president.”