TAOISEACH Enda Kenny may have admitted that he didn't vote for John McNulty in the Seanad by-election, but there remains a strong chance that the controversial candidate may win a seat.
A Herald straw poll of Fine Gael TDs shows there is still a possibility that the man - whose appointment to the board of the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) caused such an uproar - will be elected on Friday.
Mr McNulty effectively withdrew from the race when he asked TDs not to vote for him following the controversy over his placement on the board shortly before his Seanad run for a seat on the Cultural and Educational Panel was announced.
"I filled my ballot paper over the weekend. I'm very clear on this. John McNulty issued a call himself as a candidate to say I do not wish Oireachtas members to vote for me. And I respect John McNulty's call. I honour that call," the Taoiseach said.
Mr Kenny's remarks are seen as damage limitation to avoid the tangled Seanad row upstaging next week's "good news" Budget.
But the Herald has learned that a large swathe of Labour TDs have already cast their votes and the majority of those polled have given Mr McNulty their first preference.
In Fine Gael, however, there is still unease among TDs about where to mark the ballot paper ahead of Friday's deadline.
Many in the party were impressed by the Donegal politician when he spoke at Fine Gael's parliamentary party meeting two weeks ago.
And there is also concern about the increasing difficulty of getting votes passed in the Seanad where the Government does not have a majority.
Mr Kenny's comments follow Health Minister Leo Varadkar and Jobs Minister Richard Bruton's commitment to vote against the Government candidate. Children's Minister James Reilly also suggested he would not vote for Mr McNulty.
Many in Fine Gael want to see an end to the embarrassing fiasco and there is concern that, if Mr McNutly wins the vote, the controversy will drag on for another week. There have been suggestions Mr McNulty might be prepared to take the Seanad seat if elected, but the Taoiseach's comments clearly show he is opposed to such a move.
While there is a belief among both Labour and Fine Gael members that Mr McNulty could still get elected, there is also a shift toward Independent candidate Gerard Craughwell.
Mr Craughwell, himself formerly of Fine Gael, has been canvassing TDs and senators in both government parties and impressing on them that he is not a Fianna Fail candidate despite receiving the nomination from the party.
Mr Craughwell said he made "no secret" of his links to Fine Gael.
"I've told them I'm not going to be disruptive if I get elected and I've tried to dispel the suggestion I was a Fianna Fail candidate."