Martin McGuinness is the only person standing between Labour Party president Michael D Higgins and the Irish Presidency, according to sources close to the former Galway West TD.
Given David Norris’ retirement from the race and his, as yet, unsuccessful recent attempts to seek a re-nomination to run, Mr Higgins has, according to sources in the west of Ireland, emerged as the candidate with the best chance of becoming the next President.
However, these same sources acknowledge that Martin McGuinness’s entry into the race has shifted media attention towards the Derry man who, they say, represents the biggest challenge to Higgins’ campaign.
In spite of this, Labour sources in Galway remain 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 said. “On the canvass in Dublin recently, we have received positive feedback on Michael D and we are encouraged by all of this.”
Bookies Paddy Power this week made Higgins 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.
Derry-born Eurovision winner Dana Rosemary Scallon is on 66/1 and, so far, is believed to have the backing of no more than one TD.
She, therefore, needs another 19 TDs and/or senators or, alternatively, four councils to declare for her within the next week but this is looking increasingly unlikely.
A 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.”
“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 say 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.”