It would be a remarkable feat for any Westminster candidate to oust election-hardened Ian Paisley Jr from his seat on May 7, given that it has been a Paisley stronghold for almost 50 years.The 2015 Westminster election campaign in North Antrim has less tetchy feel than the previous contest where unionist Goliaths Jim Allister and Ian Paisley went head to head in the predominantly unionist constituency.
However the hype ended with a DUP victory of 19,672 to the TUV’s 7,114.
But this year’s TUV candidate Timothy Gaston, 26, who stormed to victory in the 2014 council elections believes “it is a two horse race” adding “even the bookies are saying that”.
Mr Gaston said TUV leader Jim Allister did not stand in the 2015 election as “when we were going around for Europe canvassing for the European elections) the message was very clear that people wanted Jim to be in Stormont or Europe”.
“The party is looking to the future. Our average age in this election is 34 with a lot of young credible candidates.
“I will be looking past Jim’s record in 2010.”
In contrast, Mr Paisley did not concede that his returning the seat was a forgone conclusion, in spite of political speculation.
“I am on the ground every single day knocking doors, speaking to the electorate, engaging with the public and looking forward to an enjoyable election campaign,” he said. “I hope to continue to serve the electorate in North Antrim as I have in the past five years.”
Meanwhile Ballymena Times editor Dessie Blackadder believes that in the 2015 election “when you consider that North Antrim has been a Paisley stronghold for almost 50 years, the only real question worth consideration in the forthcoming Westminster election is how the rest will perform against the present incumbent”.
He added that political anoraks will be keeping a close eye on whether Mr Gaston, who is deputy chairman of Mid East Antrim Council, will manage to poll as well as his party leader, Jim Allister.
He added: “This time around, Mr Allister is keeping out of the Westminster limelight, choosing to push young Gaston, a political novice in overall terms, into the fray against the battle-hardened Paisley.”
The Ulster Unionist candidate, Robin Swann, has had an increased profile as an MLA since 2011 and is now his party’s chief whip.
But Mr Blackadder says “the Ulster Unionists are likely to find themselves suffering due to the DUP and TUV confrontation” while “the SDLP and Sinn Fein will be checking their standings in the broader nationalist community with most observers in the area confident that Daithi McKay will be the favourite to win that, often bitter, tussle”.
The veteran North Antrim journalist said that in this constituency “party allegiances run deep” and a “common sense examination of all the possibilities leads to the conclusion – don’t expect any revolutions in May”.