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Jo-Anne Dobson: Prospect of new 'Sylvia Hermon' keeping the DUP awake at night

By Liam Clarke

Published 24/04/2015

Could Jo-Anne Dobson be the new Sylvia Hermon? The UUP hopes so and the idea keeps the DUP awake at night.

"Jo-Anne fights a ground war more than an air war, that is Sylvia's approach too," Ulster Unionist leader Mike Nesbitt said. "If she wins the seat, she could hold it for a long time."

Detractors call Jo-Anne "blonde ambition" for her signature hairstyle but they take her seriously just the same.

Most people tip the DUP's David Simpson to hold his seat but observers are hedging their bets as it gets closer.

The third important runner is Sinn Fein's Cat Seeley. Rivals say that if Sinn Fein was serious about winning it would have put up a heavy-hitter like John O'Dowd and co-opted Ms Seeley into the Assembly if he won.

Sinn Fein doesn't want Mr O'Dowd out of the Assembly and Ms Seeley is someone they are building up. She is able and attracted sympathy when the victim of harassment as a teacher in Belfast.

The narrative that sees Ms Seeley is elected runs like this. In the 2011 Stormont elections the DUP and Sinn Fein both got 27% and the UUP 24.6%. So if Ms Dobson takes two points off the DUP and does nothing else, Sinn Fein will win.

If she goes up an extra five points she will win. Mr Nesbitt points out that in the Armagh, Banbridge and Craigavon super council elections last year the UUP got more votes. However, that included Armagh council which is not in the constituency as well as Banbridge and Craigavon which are.

Mr Simpson has a reputation as a hardliner but also as a hard worker for constituents. He says: "I know there are people from the Catholic community who will vote for me. They won't agree with all my views but they agree with my work ethic and my delivery on economic matters."

The UUP has been attacking him in his Portadown heartland while trying to keep him out of Banbridge. It recruited and successfully ran Captain Doug Beattie for the council.

Will it be enough? The DUP fought hard to have this seat included in the unionist pact so they are worried, but Mr Simpson seems confident and it could be curtains for Mr Nesbitt if he doesn't secure an MP somewhere this time.

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