As Donegal South West goes to the polls….

Pretty much all of the Donegal world agus a bhean chéile thinks Pearse Doherty is going to top the poll with ease this time out. Since they managed only to scrape 8k last time out, that’s likely to be a game changing moment for the party. On the ground, Sinn Fein have run a pretty canny campaign. In contrast with the 2007 general election, there is little evidence of Gerry Adams on any of their posters.

In fact they’ve put out three different kinds of posters throughout the constituency: those clearly branded Sinn Fein; those with a Sinn Fein logo even smaller than Brian Ó Domhnaill’s Fianna Fail logo (and that is small); and those without any SF logo whatsoever. A canny, (very FF-like) campaign in which the candidate is uncharacteristically elevated above party. Accordingly, expect Sinn Fein to ship a record number of first preferences, and a record number of transfers.

Privately, they accept the Paddy Power poll exaggerates their county strength, but private polling both for them and other parties in constituency still confirms an historic performance on their part. For now, there no plans to run a second candidate in the upcoming Generals.

Much of the rest of the campaign may prove academic. Fianna Fail’s Brian Ó Domhnaill was on the world’s stickiest wicket from the start, but his ‘I’m the only candidate who will be part of the government’ message has come severely unstuck with the visit of the IMF and subsequent admission by Brian Cowen that he will call an election early in the new year.

The word (from their opponents) is that much of the party’s base will simply not show up today. Indeed, the famous FF party machine has been little in evidence on Donegal doorsteps throughout the campaign. Early feedback suggests an all time low in the turnout is on the cards. Under normal circumstances that would favour Fianna Fail.

But these are not normal circumstances.

Beyond a highly favoured (by Paddy Power on that 500 sample anyway) Sinn Fein win, the substantial national interest lies in the relative performances of Barry O’Neill of Fine Gael and Frank McBrearty the avuncular, larger than life Labour candidate.

Whichever of those two pulls in the bigger share of the vote, has a chance of pulling in on Doherty.  And, as you might expect, both camps are talking up their chances.

Fine Gael are confident their support is motivated and determined to turn up. They expect a three way split (with FF and SF) with their man coming through on transfers, which, the biggest tranche (45%) in last year’s locals came their way.

But McBrearty is penetrating a voter base way beyond the derisory figure that his predecessor – the Worker’s Party veteran Seamus Rogers – received last time out. Whilst few seriously expect him to take the seat this time, if he registers anything north of 15% in today’s poll, the history books on Donegal politics may have to be pulped in the wake of the upcoming General Election.

In which case, FG may have a much bigger struggle on their hands to keep Enda’s name on the taoiseach’s office door than heretofore. But for now, this is about channelling anger with a government which has lost control of the narrative (and, in the national perception at least, the country’s finances).

For further detailed updates, join our live blog tomorrow from 11am on when we hope to bring you the early press and tallies from the Finn Valley count centre.