With the Westminster parliament stood down on Wednesday, the names of the four Upper Bann main candidates were being confirmed later in the day, to fight the surprise June 8 election called by Prime Minister Theresa May.
Sitting MP David Simpson (DUP), Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie, Sinn Fein’s John O’Dowd and Declan McAlinden (SDLP) will be the top four protagonists, with ABC council member McAlinden the likely surprise choice to replace MLA Dolores Kelly on the polling cards.
It will, however, be a three-cornered scrap with Simpson, Beattie and O’Dowd the protagonists, all confident that they can make it, in the usual Orange-Green scramble for votes.
The man in Westminster (Simpson) remains the favourite to retain the seat which he wrested from David Trimble in 2005 and has occupied ever since. The DUP tried to cut a unity deal with UUP in Upper Bann, but without success.
Instead, UUP plumped for Beattie who made it at the last Assembly elections at the expense of Jo-Anne Dobson.
There was speculation that Danny Kennedy would move across from Newry-Armagh, but that didn’t happen, with Kennedy’s name being mentioned as a South Belfast unity candidate.
Meanwhile, Upper Bann is firmly in the sights of Sinn Fein who hope to benefit from the unionist split. John O’Dowd – ex-Education Minister – replaces Catherine Seeley who came third last time. She polled 11,592, against Simpson’s 15,430 and Dobson’s 13,166.
Sinn Fein – after their positive showing in the March Assembly poll – will be throwing everything at Upper Bann, although the decision by SDLP to run McAlinden could stymie that move.
The Simpson camp was yesterday predicting an increase in their 2015 vote, adding that Beattie’s moderate brand of unionism did not sit comfortable in rather conservative Upper Bann – and there was a danger of splitting the vote to let O’Dowd in.
But Beattie retorted that 30% of unionists in the constituency had failed to vote last time, and that his moderate version of politics could attract them.
The names of the parties from the minor parties were emerging last night, but none really stand a chance against the big three.