It’s looking tight in Derry

Mitchell McLaughlin broke the news to Slugger earlier today that Sinn Fein’s tallies put him comfortably ahead of Durkan. Though he wouldn’t say by how much, the party had first figured it about ten days ago but were concerned about the effects of releasing it too early. On the other side, Mark Durkan doesn’t exactly exude confidence. But then this was never going to be an easy fight for him. However, he is picking up some feedback that people who had previously voted Sinn Fein are now coming back to them. He doesn’t yet believe he’ll need a cushion of Unionist support votes.In Derry at least the McCartney affair is not playing significantly on either side. Then again, the SDLP is not going for what they call a negative canvass, ie, even when the subject is raised on the doorstep they are not going further with it. McLaughlin says he’s simply not picking it up as a significant issue. One worker told Slugger that although there was initial shock in the community over the events and some hostility, most of that blew over almost as soon as the sisters went to the US.

Like the DUP in Upper Bann Sinn Fein have been targeting the more prosperous areas of Derry, but particularly targeting what they believe to be Catholic households. The SDLP are calling on all doors in mixed estates in the Waterside area of the City. Durkan is really up against it. We only saw McLaughlin out in the heart of his constituency, stuffing letterboxes rather than canvassing. But his team looked confident.

Of course Sinn Fein has much less to lose than the SDLP leader. And Durkan has been putting in unprecedented work here. They’ve been soft canvassing since the last European election. They had a major registration campaign before Christmas, and then in April another one aimed at getting out postal and proxy votes. As one worker put it, “It’s been all hands on deck.”

Indeed, the group of 15 or so workers I went out with this evening contained a number of people who’d previously only voted SDLP and felt galvanised enough to get out their armchair and canvass for the first time. And they are well organised to grab Durkan as fast as they can and get him as much face time with constituents as possible. It’s not his favourite aspect of being a politician, but he claims he’s enjoying the conversations. And we’re fairly sure he’s lost more than a few pounds in the process!

If Durkan wins, it will be close. But if McLaughlin takes it, we could see him do it by a sizeable margin. One problem is that SDLP’s campaign has not produced a ‘Big Momentum’ that might have made his job easier on the doorstep. Instead, they’ve relied on people passively reading the disturbing events of the last few months, without having it spelt out.

If he does haul this one back from the fire, the guys down at Cable Street Sinn Fein office are confident they’ll have no trouble getting it next time.