(UPDATE: I wrote this entry on the afternoon of the now infamous Frontline programme. Three hours is a long time in politics…)
Why is Sean Gallagher leading the race to the Aras? It’s a question that’s certainly perplexing Twitter and many a conversation…
Why are voters seemingly happy to disregard his Fianna Fail past, questions about his business record, his (quite startling) assertion that ‘nothing springs to mind’ when asked about the most important legislation to have come before the Oireachtas in the recent past….
The role of Irish President has very limited powers. The election is more of a popularity or personality contest. Image is therefore very important.
Could it then be down to some or all of these three areas – his Spouse, his Age and his Demeanour? Or SAD for short.
SPOUSE. If ‘appearances-with-partner’ formed part of the race, Sean Gallagher would win hands down. His wife Trish O’Connor is always by his side, always supporting him. They present a public image of a smiling and united couple. They also look stylish and immaculately turned out on every occasion. People subconsciously warm to all of this. Think Barack & Michelle on the campaign trail. More importantly, think Martin supporting Mary McAleese over the last 14 years, as was well commented on during the recent ’Constant President’ documentary.
But how have the other candidates fared in this regard? 5 out of 6 are also married;
Gay Mitchell, Michael D, Mary Davis; - limited appearances with their spouses.
Dana; sparse – apart from his ‘heroic driver who saved us from being murdered’ role.
Martin McGuinness; – his wife is rarely if ever seen in public, a hangover from NI security situation (similar to Gerry Adams wife).
David Norris doesn’t have a partner currently, as far as I know.
AGE – Gallagher (49) is the only candidate yet to celebrate his 60th birthday. It makes him the youngest candidate by some distance. If youthful vim and vigour tick boxes for voters, than Gallagher steps closest to that mark. Age should not be a factor, but for anyone who does declare Higgins too old, Sean Gallagher represents the most youthful alternative.
DEMEANOUR – his manner throughout the campaign has remained positive. He consistently presents a genial front, and has resisted the urge to snipe, backbite and even backstab, as evidenced in some of the TV debates. Other candidates did themselves no favours in this regard, particularly Mitchell and McGuinness, who though they have dropped it since, have done themselves damage. Had there been TV debates in the McAleese era, one simply couldn’t imagine Mary engaging in anything like this type of negative behaviour. By rising above it and maintaining an air of serenity, Sean Gallagher has come across as, well, more ‘presidential’.
Sean Gallagher has, I feel, studied the Presidential optics carefully, knows what his trump cards are, and is playing them cleverly.
S.A.D. But true.