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Constituency profile: Upper Bann

What’s the story? Upper Bann, more than most constituencies, has reflected the changing landscape for unionism over the last decade — and will again see another battle royal between the DUP and Ulster Unionists next month.

This is where the DUP’s David Simpson toppled Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble in 2005, and where, four years earlier, the DUP came very close to overtaking the UUP for the first time.

Now, with the DUP four years into power-sharing with Sinn Fein, TUV candidate David Vance will be hoping history can repeat itself, regardless of a change in circumstances.

Runners

A number of new faces are vying for votes for the first time which could affect the final outcome, with the prospect that Sinn Fein could take a second seat.

And if Freddie Mercury impersonator Harry Hamilton can ‘break free’ for Alliance, repeating the outstanding performance he managed for the Ulster Unionists in last year’s Westminster race — when he totalled more than 10,600 votes — he could also take the last seat.

And arguably with some surplus DUP votes looking for a home — the party is running only two candidates — this is the TUV’s second best chance for an Assembly foothold after Jim Allister in North Antrim. Rival parties attest that Mr Vance and his assistants have been pounding the pavements.

If the UUP fails to achieve a resurgence, the DUP may kick itself for not running a third candidate.

In an effort to end double-jobbing, David Simpson stood down from the Assembly to focus on being an MP, leaving the field to Stephen Moutray and Sydney Anderson.

There was disquiet within DUP ranks, however, when Mr Anderson was selected ahead of senior Stormont aide and veteran DUP officer Philip Weir. Mr Weir declined to make any public comment, however, and a potential storm blew over.

Veteran UUP member George Savage is also not running after being deselected by the party. In his place Jo-Anne Dobson runs along with Colin McCusker and incumbent Sam Gardiner, who has been an MLA since 2003.

Sinn Fein’s performance has soared ahead of its main nationalist rival party in this area, with John O’Dowd more than 3,000 votes ahead at the last Assembly fight.

The gap widened at last year’s Westminster first-past-the-post poll to almost double, although veteran SDLP member Dolores Kelly should still have a quota since the Sinn Fein vote share last year actually shrunk slightly.

In the event of a poor SDLP performance, however, and if the vote transfer spreads too thinly across the variations within unionism, a second Sinn Fein seat is a possibility, but it could be at the expense of the UUP.

Verdict

Very difficult to call the last seat in this constituency, which will make it one of the most interesting contests to watch.

The DUP will likely get both Moutray and Anderson home, but the UUP, with three in the field, will struggle to get all elected, possibly leaving room for a TUV breakthrough for Vance if transfers fall right.

Kelly should be safe, but the rise of Sinn Fein in the area, according to the Strategm group, “makes Upper Bann an interesting one to watch”.

Outgoing Assembly members (asterisk denotes they are running again)

*John O'Dowd (SF) 7,733 (18%)

*Sydney Anderson (DUP) (who replaced David Simpson 6,828 (15.9%)

*Samuel Gardiner (UUP) 5,135 (11.9%)

*Dolores Kelly (SDLP) 4,689 (10.9%)

*Stephen Moutray (DUP) 3,663 (8.5%)

George Savage (UUP) 2,167 (5%)

2010 share of vote compared to 2007

DUP 33.8% (31.4%)

UUP 25.7% (21.3%)

Alliance 3% (1.9%)

SDLP 12.7% (12.7%)

SF 24.7% (25.3%)

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