THE battle lines have been drawn in what promises to be the most intensive and hardest fought general election in Carlow-Kilkenny since the State was founded.
Two of the country's best known politicians, Bobby Aylward TD and John McGuinness TD are fighting for their political survival as an opinion poll published today in this paper and running on pages 7, 8, 9 and 11 tells the real story of those who are electable and those who will not make it.
The Fianna Fail heavyweights are neck and neck at 11% (McGuinness) and 10% (Aylward) respectively in their bid for re-election. It coincides with a collapse in the party's vote of 47.7% in 2007 to just 24% in the poll carried out last week in 40 different parts of Carlow and Kilkenny.
And both men find themselves in opposite camps in the race to elect a new leader of their party. Deputy John McGuinness is backing Michael Martin TD while Deputy Bobby Aylward has yet to make any public comment but he has a strong personal relationship with Brian Lenihan and it would be highly unlikely for him to vote against Mr Lenihan in today's vote.
The findings of the poll which were carried out by the Kilkenny People team and by students from Ormonde College, Ormonde Road, Kilkenny over a week are at odds with telephone polls taken over the last number of months which show Fianna Fail at between 10% and 14%.
This poll undertaken door-to-door at 40 different points in both counties is a fair reflection of how the electorate feel, at present, about the candidates and the parties.
Fine Gael have 31% of the vote in the poll with 20% of people still undecided on how they will vote for but who are determined to have their say on the day.
Already being tipped for a senior ministry in any new government, Deputy Phil Hogan, the party's spokesman on the environment, is a safe bet along with Kilkenny running mate, Sen John Paul Phelan.
That's because the Carlow based Fine Gael candidate, Cllr Pat Deering has so far failed to ignite in his campaign and give him a real chance of taking a seat for the party and for Carlow.
Because of the voting arrangement in place for Fine Gael candidates, the gap between the three men will be much smaller on election day than presented in the poll.
The other major winners in the poll are Sinn Fein and Labour. Labour through either Ann Phelan, Graignamanagh or Des Hurley, Carlow town will take a seat and on the percentages will be fighting for the final fifth seat as well.
Sinn Fein have 15% of the vote and if all those votes transferred intact from Cllr Katheen Funchion, Kilkenny (6%) to Cllr John Cassin, Carlow (9%) they would win a seat but their voting pact does not take into account local loyalties and county bias.
Like their coalition partners, the Green Party is on the ropes in the constituency with hard working Minister for State Mary White, very likely to lose her seat although her votes will have a say in where the last seat goes.
Conor MacLiam of the United Socialist Party (USP) who only announced his candidacy a few weeks ago really hasn't had time to connect with the electorate and this has affected any chance he had of taking a seat.
The poll also predicts that there will be a higher turn-out of voters this time around than there was in 2007 and traditionally that suits parties other than Fianna Fail.
Voting patterns among the older section of the coumunity have not changed in many areas with a signifcant number of older people still willing to vote Fianna Fail and when asked what party they would vote for said not Fianna fail yet ended up giving their first preference to either John McGuinness or Bobby Alyward.