I watched the Presidential Debate last night on TV3 and the previous one last Friday on RTE. I have to say at this stage that this election is more about mistakes than issues.
The role of the President is a figurehead role and we currently have 7 candidates in the running. At this stage with just over 3 weeks to go there are, realistically, only 4 candidates still in the race, Michael D Higgins, Gay Mitchell, Martin McGuinness and Sean Gallagher.
Higgins is clearly head and shoulders above the rest, even if he is 2 feet shorter than the others. His biggest win so far has been staying out of the scraps and acting presidential. He demonstrates a clear knowledge of the role and the constitution and sometimes comes across as the wise teacher explaining to the other candidates why they are wrong in what they said. No one wants to be seen attacking a small old man so the others are scared to even look at him the wrong waay. A good candidate on his own, he was always going to be in the running right to the end but now he might just win easily because the others knock themselves out.
Mitchell and McGuinness are taking lumps out of each other and really need to focus on the campaign because at this stage they are not fighting for the win they, are fighting for 2nd and 3rd place, 4th if they keep dragging each other down and let Gallagher get ahead. With the success of the peace process McGuinness had some appeal outside the Sinn Fein core vote but his constant focus on Northern Ireland issues and achievements in interviews will begin to grate on the voters in the Republic of Ireland, where he is running. His IRA past was always going to be an issue but voters thought they knew about it and many had gotten past it. He has now confused the situation by denying his membership after 1974 and created doubt in peoples minds.
Mitchell is an interview train wreck. His campaign is completely focused on taking down McGuinness and while he's achieving that goal he is not actually winning votes for himself. When talking about himself he constantly repeats tales of woe from his youth that could have come from a Frank McCourt or Alice Taylor novel. Asked about the role of the President he talks about suicide prevention, an admirable goal but he could just volunteer for the Samaritans. He needs something new to catch peoples interest or his campaign is doomed.
Gallagher is the surprise of the campaign for me. I thought he'd pick up some votes from the younger voters and business people and finish 6th or even as high as 5th but last weekend he struck a cord with my retired parents who were impressed with his focus on creating jobs. The older generation, who will vote, are worried about their children having to emigrate so the jobs creation message resonates with them. Gallagher however needs to push himself forward more. There is no point in having a message if you don't tell anyone about it. Also while he denies his FF past many people out there have a history of voting for FF and like Gallagher now claim to have disowned the party. That is a voting pool he could tap into with a "We made mistakes in the past, lets learn from them" message.
The other three, Dana Rosemary Scallon, Mary Davis and David Norris are performing so badly that if they were in an American Presidential Primary race they would have pulled out. Unfortunately at this stage I suspect they are hanging on in the hope of getting enough votes to get some of their election expenses paid by the state.
Dana seems to wave the constitutions of Ireland and the European Union in response to every question. She is also starting to sound like a conspiracy theory nut and really doesn't seem to understand what the President can and cant do.
Mary Davis, seems to be caught up in her own airbrushed self image. The Special Olympics was a great achievement but she got paid for it and being on 23 State boards regardless of who appointed her just makes her sound like a friend of Bertie. Also her posters just annoy me. The head shot looks like a completely different person and the full body shot has text too small to read so it looks like a viral advert for Special K. She should fire who ever designed them.
David Norris, God love him he's just in free fall. He started this campaign as a respected elder statesman with a track record of campaigning on many important issues. He is going to end it being chewed up and spat out. He should have known his own personal history and should never have entered the campaign and he certainly should never have reentered it.
I still haven't decided who I'll vote for but Higgins is my favourite at the moment and Gallagher would get a 2nd preference vote, though I expect that Higgins will be in the race after Gallagher is eliminated so a preference vote wont be needed.