THE FOUR Fianna Fail leadership contenders last night made their pitch to TDs and vowed to take the party back to its roots.
Micheal Martin, Brian Lenihan, Eamon O Cuiv and Mary Hanafin all said the party needed to reconnect with ordinary voters.
Mr Martin, seen as the frontrunner, said Fianna Fail needed to break the link to big business and return to the people it served at its foundation -- people of modest means and those in need.
Mr Martin and Mr Lenihan were described as giving the best speeches, both around 10 minutes long. Ms Hanafin's speech was shorter, while Mr O Cuiv spoke for 20 minutes.
Mr Martin talked about why he joined Fianna Fail and how he was the first of his family to go to college. He said Fianna Fail needed to get back to being the party of education, advancement and respect for hard work and not about builders and developers.
"Lenihan was more about the election, and the debate about the economy being central to the election," one TD said.
"Micheal kind of took a step back from that and talked about the party getting back to its roots."
Mr Lenihan played up the fact that he was a Dublin TD, with the capital and commuter counties crucial to Fianna Fail and the weakest area at the moment.
But he also mentioned his childhood in Athlone and his relations in Donegal to argue that his appeal was not confined to Dublin.
The Finance Minister also referenced opinion polls which illustrated his popularity with the public and quoted Sean Lemass.
Ms Hanafin's speech drew mixed reviews from TDs.
She also mentioned Eamon De Valera and Jack Lynch, and quoted heavily from Sean Lemass, but did not mention Charlie Haughey or Bertie Ahern.
Ms Hanafin also told Taoiseach Brian Cowen, who was at the meeting, that he did the right thing in resigning.
Sources close to Ms Hanafin, who is being seen as having the least chance of victory, last night said she was intent on pushing the contest all the way.
Mr O Cuiv told TDs that he had experience in running businesses and wanted to focus on building the party from the grassroots up.
He said he was connected to every parish in the country, and joked that people may not vote for him because of his geography -- since he spent a few nights a week sleeping in Dublin 4.
Both he and Mr Martin said Fianna Fail needed to become an All-Ireland party and start organising in the North.
All candidates said the party needed a good communications strategy and had to connect with the public.
One more vote also came into play last night as Sligo-North Leitrim TD Jimmy Devins was readmitted to the parliamentary party.
Dr Devins resigned the whip in 2009 over cancer care services in Sligo Hospital, but rejoined the parliamentary party last night, bringing the total number of votes to 72.
Ms Hanafin acknowledged afterwards that Mr Martin was the frontrunner.
"The past three leaders have all been elected without a contest.
"The leadership contests before that were really acrimonious and divided the party. This one is so different," she said.
"My main pitch is that we believe in the values of Fianna Fail as they were originally but we need to adapt them for the new Ireland that we live in."