Upper Bann: DUP candidate Jo-Anne Dobson fears unionists are cutting each other’s throats in hotly contested constituency
With only two days to go until the election, Noel McAdam joins the candidates in the key battleground of Upper Bann
Only a few days left in the contest, and Jo-Anne Dobson is going all out to stage a land grab back for the Ulster Unionists in Upper Bann.
Seemingly closing the gap on the DUP's David Simpson, Dobson and her team are concentrating on his biggest stronghold of Portadown. Some say the same tide that swept David Trimble from the seat 10 years ago is now rising against Simpson.
Yet the DUP narrative remains that a unionist vote split down the middle could allow Sinn Fein's Catherine Seeley to slip through and win, a message which may still rally unionists around Simpson. But out on the stump at Elizabeth Terrace, along the Charlestown Road in the Carn area of the town, Dobson insists a UUP victory is within grasp.
Joined by UU leader Mike Nesbitt and veteran local councillor Arnold Hatch and other party workers, the aim is to encourage UU supporters who haven't turned up for a couple of elections to come out this time. This is a fairly solid UU area but people in the team said they cannot afford to take any support for granted.
At one door, Dobson spends the best part of 10 minutes talking through a family's complicated health issues. Her people aren't irritated, they say she is always like that. Then as she finally walks back up the garden path, a man in a car going past toots his horn and shouts, "You're getting my vote, Joanne". Couldn't possibly be set up for the visiting Press (me) could it?
"I have been out most nights," Dobson said. "During the day I have been at Stormont mostly. But I have almost completed my canvass of the constituency and, apart from Sunday which is for church, I intend to keep on going."
She is probably stronger than Simpson in Banbridge, where she was born and went to school, and in Waringstown, where she and her farming family live now.
But in Portadown, the UU brand appears to be receiving a better reception in some areas where for years the party has feared to tread, like Redmanville and Corcrain. On one night, Daphne Trimble also joined a squad in Killycomaine. "Politics is cyclical," says Nesbitt, "We are getting a strong sense that people feel the DUP has not delivered."
A poll in the Portadown Times puts Simpson on 30.7% and Dobson on 25%. In between is Seeley, replacing the more high profile John O'Dowd on the Sinn Fein ticket, on 28.1 %, fuelling the DUP's worst fears.
Simpson said: "It is the same as in the 2011 Assembly results, it shows this is a clear two-candidate race, between myself and Sinn Fein. The facts are that the only way to ensure that Upper Bann has full-time unionist representation in Parliament is by voting for me."
In 2011, SF topped the poll in the Assembly election - just 29 votes ahead of the DUP.
Seeley could still struggle, however, because the SDLP's Dolores Kelly has maintained a strong 5,000 to 6,000 share of the vote since she first stood in 2001.
SF needs to siphon off a sizeable proportion of SDLP support, but that could still be triggered if enough nationalists believe republicans can win the day.