LABOUR stalwart Michael D Higgins last night emerged as the clear favourite to get his party's backing to run for president.
The veteran Labour Party TD, who is competing against Barnardos chief Fergus Finlay, must canvass just 36 people to secure the party's nomination--including his 28 colleagues in the Dail and the Seanad and eight people on the national executive.
Party colleagues last night claimed his daily interaction with so many of the 36 voters and his general popularity across the party would likely secure him the nomination.
The Galway West TD himself insisted he was "taking nothing for granted" but said the response from colleagues had been "very positive".
He appeared confident about beating former Labour chef de cabinet Mr Finlay in the race to be Labour's nominee.
Mr Higgins and Mr Finlay are now the two candidates seeking the nomination to run for the presidency in November 2011.
The former Arts Minister Mr Higgins (69) announced his challenge to Mr Finlay yesterday -- making it a two-way race.
If elected president, Mr Higgins said he would only serve one term and would not seek re-election in 2018.
"I don't take any of this for granted, but I suppose maybe the most encouraging part of it was when the Labour Party took the decision at its last party conference that it would have a candidate for the presidency," Mr Higgins.
At the time of that decision, Mr Higgins was the main name touted by Labour Party members.
"I am talking to all of my parliamentary colleagues but I have been near this position before and I don't take anything for granted. But I have to tell you the response has been very warm and very positive," he said.
There are already teams of colleagues and friends preparing Mr Higgins's international campaign. The candidate said his campaigners had a "track record" to sell.
"In my case, remember I am a political scientist. I know the office of the presidency. I lectured on it as an academic," he said.
"But I have also been an elected person at every level. I have been a county councillor, a city councillor, a mayor, a senator. I was elected by the universities. I have been in the Dail 25 years, I have been a member of the cabinet, I was president of the council of culture ministers, I have represented Ireland abroad and I have represented Ireland in Europe."
The other political parties have yet to kick-start their bid for the presidency.
Independent senator David Norris and Fianna Fail senator Mary White have declared an interest in running.
Other names being speculated on include Fine Gael MEPs Mairead McGuinness and Sean Kelly, Special Olympics chief Mary Davis, Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly, and former Taoisigh Bertie Ahern (FF) and John Bruton (FG).