Andrew Lynch: After the first debate: how Presidential hopefuls rate
AND they're off! Last night's Frontline saw the first in what's set to be a long series of television debates between the candidates to succeed Mary McAleese as the next President of Ireland.
Unfortunately, it was a bit of a damp squib as only four of the 10 people in the frame managed to show up -- but as the race for the Aras starts to heat up, it's time to assess who's in it for the long haul and who's in danger of embarrassing themselves.
If there was no obvious winner in last night's debate, Mary was certainly the big loser. The Special Olympics chief made a bad gaffe when she claimed that she might not sign a tough Budget into law, since the President is explicitly forbidden under the constitution from blocking a finance bill. By displaying a lack of basic knowledge about the job, Davis is in danger of looking like Adi Roche in 1997 -- a nice woman who is simply not right for the Park.
CHANCES: Fading fast
MICHAEL D HIGGINS
On the Labour side, Michael D remains the favourite. The public affection for him was plain to see in the RTE studio. However, he occasionally comes across as self-righteous and people worried about his age will have noticed his hands shaking as he read his opening statement.
CHANCES: Pretty good
Finlay started this race well behind Michael D but is steadily narrowing the gap.
He is gambling everything on the notion of an activist presidency, quite different to anything we've ever seen before. He could be on to something, but he needs more time to make his case than he got last night.
CHANCES: Getting stronger
Kathleen is frankly a no-hoper. She promises to organise "a national conversation" that will lead to a new proclamation on the centenary of the 1916 Rising. It's pretty airy-fairy stuff and there's no evidence yet that anybody is buying it.
None of the Fine Gael candidates made it to RTE, possibly because they were afraid of what they might say to each other.
With Enda Kenny's party riding high in the opinion polls, however, whoever they end up choosing will automatically be a serious contender.
CHANCES: Almost zero
Pat's late entry has caused a lot of bad feeling. Although his presidency of the European Parliament makes it easy to imagine him in the Aras, he has to shake off the 'Mr Smug' nickname given to him by Mary O'Rourke. FG's top brass believe he has the best chance of winning, but he only joined the party today and the grassroots are clearly reluctant to support a 'blow-in'.
Gay has a real chance. The Dublin MEP is a huge vote-getter with an appealing story to tell about his humble background. On the downside, people still mock him for suggesting that Ireland should host the Olympics during his time as Lord Mayor, and his thin skin means he could start a row with his own reflection.
CHANCES: Very good
Mairead was one of the first candidates to declare her interest, but has been reduced to shouting, "I'm here too!"
On the other hand, winning the nomination could make her the only woman on the ballot paper -- and that would be a serious advantage.
CHANCES: Holding steady
What about the other independents? Dragons' Den judge Sean Gallagher made his pitch on the Late Late Show two months ago and has barely been seen since. Unless he has something really original to offer, the voters will surely declare, "We're out".
CHANCES: A long shot
Publisher Niall promises to be "the best travelling salesman" Ireland ever had, but his links with Sinn Fein could be a problem and the public might be reluctant to choose someone who has lived over half his life in the US.
CHANCES: Outside bet
David is still the wild card. Although the recent controversy over his views on sexuality have obviously caused him massive damage, he is still out there battling for a nomination.
If opinion polls keep showing him with a strong level of support, then can the political establishment really keep him out?
CHANCES: Wounded but still alive
Barring the late arrival of some white knight on a horse, one of these 10 people will be the next inhabitant of Aras an Uachtarain.
The choice is ours -- and we have roughly 20 weeks left to make it.