Just days after claims internal disputes within the DUP were making Mid Ulster’s unionists turn to the TUV, party leader Arlene Foster has rolled into Cookstown.
The First Minister joined the party’s two Mid Ulster candidates, Ian McCrea and Keith Buchanan, on a tour of local businesses after refreshments at Cookstown Cafe this morning (Thursday).
The Mail reported this week how DUP posters without any images of their local candidates had appeared on lampposts across the district with the simple instruction ‘Vote DUP 1, 2 in order of YOUR choice’.
And back in March it was revealed that a split within the ranks of the DUP in Mid Ulster led to two nominations being made from the party.
A political source told the Mid Ulster Mail at the time: “The gloves will be off between these two candidates for every vote, it makes for an interesting and closely fought contest.”
It was also said at the time that it was believed there were “rumblings of discontent” within the rank and file of the party in the constituency for some time.
“This discontent ended up at DUP headquarters and because the election is proportional representation the party leadership agreed to let both candidates run in Mid Ulster to settle the matter,” the source continued.
Mr McCrea, a son of the former Mid Ulster and South Antrim MP Rev William McCrea, has held the Mid Ulster seat since 2007 and will be out to defend the 7,127 votes he secured at the Assembly election in 2011.
The former Cookstown District Council chairman also has the added struggle to hold on to ground against Ulster Unionist Party candidate Sandra Overend, who will be out to capitalise on the DUP split.
Mrs Overend polled almost 900 votes more than Mr McCrea at last year’s general election pushing him into third position overall behind Sinn Féin’s Francie Molloy, a result which was no doubt noted by DUP strategists.
Keith Buchanan, from Rock, outside Cookstown, has been active in the DUP for the past three years and held the position of branch secretary since 2014.
A party insider said he is “extremely popular” within the Pomeroy community, particularly for his work with a number of local voluntary organisations.