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It's a dog's life as Enda goes walkies

Holy God. Fellas strolling innocently into the bookies on Baggot Street for a lunchtime flutter yesterday were greeted by a sight which they would've laid long odds on ever stumbling upon in a month of Sundays.

There was Enda Kenny -- the squeaky-clean former school-teacher who leaves behind him not a trail of sulphur but carbolic soap -- and he was all over a gorgeous blonde called Nikita. He swept her up in his arms and she lavished kisses all over his glowing cheeks. Oh my, pass the smelling-salts.

The posse of photographers went into delirious meltdown -- Lord knows what they would have done if the Fine Gael leader had actually been having a romp with a Russian babe rather than a canoodle with a Labradoodle.

But one thing about Enda is that he's always game when it comes to daft photo-shoots: he'll scale ladders, kiss babbies, don hard-hats and dance with doggies. Whatever it takes to hoover up votes, he'll give it a go.

And so he nipped into Paddy Power bookmakers to place a €1,000 charity bet in aid of Irish Guide Dogs Association on his party winning 70 or more seats on February 25, and then happily posed with an adorable golden retriever puppy and a strapping Labradoodle who was almost the same size as himself.

And a short while later he was at it again when he visited printing company The Printed Image in Clondalkin and obliged the photographers by hauling a pallet around the printing-floor loaded up with his two candidates Frances Fitzgerald and Derek Keating and a stack of Fine Gael election posters.

But Enda's a good-humoured sort who likes being out and about on the campaign trail -- he's far more relaxed in the setting of walkabouts and the more informal 'doorstep' style of media interview rather than the formal set-up with podiums, TV cameras and a pack of reporters leisurely picking holes in his woolier replies to questions.

Though these days he's walking a bit more gingerly as the big prize gets ever nearer.

After over 35 years in the Dail -- he's been occupying a seat in the chamber for longer than some deputies have been alive -- he can almost taste victory.

The opinion polls are holding steady and the press entourage following him on the leader's tour have begun to jokingly refer to him as POTUS -- usually the secret service shorthand for President of the United States, but this has been re-invented as Possibly Our Taoiseach U See.

But having seen the big gig literally vanish from underneath his nose in 2007, magicked away in the final days of the campaign by the Big Bertini, Enda -- and his handlers -- are being ultra careful this time.

The road to the big gig is still fraught with potholes, banana-skins and trapdoors -- particularly with a candidate who has a genius for finding all three.

There was the Micheal Martin-generated row about the TV debates (Micheal and Eamon want a threesome while Enda prefers a more swinging five-way), and then there was a less-than successful press conference on Wednesday which riled the media by starting late and finishing far too soon.

As Father Ted would say, careful now, Enda. And so it wasn't surprising when Enda, flanked by Richard Bruton and Leo Varadkar, swept into yesterday morning's press conference to launch the party's job strategy bang on time.

Nor should it be surprising that the flash of steel he showed during last summer's attempted heave flashed briefly once again when criticisms levelled at him by former Fine Gael minister Gemma Hussey were brought up by a reporter.

The former education minister had put the boot in about Enda's character the previous night on RTE's new politics show 'The Eleventh Hour'.

Enda was having none of it. Gallantry went out the window and he coldly dismissed her remarks -- he didn't actually call her an interfering busybody, but he came darn close.

His lips tightened as he spoke his mind. "Gemma Hussey is out of politics, she should stay out of politics," he snapped.

"She is not part of the Fine Gael programme. Gemma Hussey had her day, she got a good time from Fine Gael when she was minister for education. I served with her as a junior for a number of times and she should remember the number of times I helped her with difficulties she had in that education portfolio."

Well. That was her told. It was an uncharacteristic blast of hostility -- but it rang far more true than the times he's tried to joke his way out of an awkward question.

It's clear he won't countenance a mere former player putting a spanner in the works at this late stage.

Enda then hit the trail through Maynooth, Naas and Newbridge -- but the howling gales and rain-storms washed out the final two stops.

However -- after spending the night in Biffoland -- Tullamore -- Enda's off to Offaly, Laois and North Tipperary today before heading to Limerick.

And it'll be worth watching to see if he adds an extra car to his entourage before heading to the home of the Rubberbandits.

A souped-up Honda of course, to attract the youth vote.

One can see the posters already: Enda has a Honda so I might just go with him . . .

Irish Independent