FINE Gael MEP Gay Mitchell is favourite among party councillors in Taoiseach Enda Kenny's home patch as he seeks the presidential nomination.
Members of Fine Gael's ruling body are also weighing in heavily behind Mr Mitchell ahead of the selection convention on Saturday, an Irish Independent survey shows.
Given Mr Kenny's apparent neutrality in the contest, party figures are keenly watching for any sign indicating a preference.
A secret poll of Fine Gael councillors in Mayo, taken by one of Mr Kenny's staunch supporters, found Mr Mitchell surprisingly edging ahead of Mairead McGuinness.
The result confounded the perception that he wouldn't pick up support outside Dublin.
Fine Gael council whip Joe Mellett conducted the survey. The results show Mr Mitchell getting the backing of six councillors, four for Ms McGuinness, two for Pat Cox and none for Avril Doyle, a party source said.
Mr Mellett famously shouted out "Up Mayo" when the Fine Gael leader staved off a leadership heave last summer.
Mr Mitchell came out ahead in a vote of members in Transport Minister Leo Varadkar's constituency of Dublin West. In a casual vote at a meeting this week, he edged out Mr Cox.
The party's councillors have 20pc of the votes at the convention. But this vote is spread among about 400 town, borough, city and county representatives and members of Udaras na Gaeltachta.
Fine Gael national executive members have 10pc of the votes in Saturday's contest -- making them far more powerful than the councillors and described as "kingmakers".
Six members of the executive privately told the Irish Independent they would definitely be voting for Mr Mitchell and two declared for Ms McGuinness.
A reliable party source said Mr Mitchell was widely expected to win the backing of at least half the national executive, followed by Ms McGuinness and Mr Cox.
Executive council chairman Brian Murphy said he would not be saying how he intended to vote because he would be chairing the convention.
He is a former adviser to Mr Mitchell when he was European Affairs Minister.
Sean McKiernan, a member of the executive, said he was backing Mr Mitchell, crediting the Dublin MEP with playing an important part in the party's resurgence.
"I don't buy into the idea he won't get support outside of Dublin. You could put forward a counter view about Mairead McGuinness in that case," he said.
Humphrey Deegan said he was voting for Ms McGuinness. "I really feel she can bring something different to it," he added.
Joan Mulvihill, a Leinster member, observed: "I sense the most vocal support is for Gay Mitchell -- but that's not necessarily my vote."