Jo-Anne Dobson was the most popular choice among Upper Bann delegates to run in next year’s Assembly election for the Ulster Unionist Party.
Dobson received 98 votes, while Kyle Savage sprung a surprise as he came away with 96 votes to claim the runner-up position.
Douge Beattie (89 votes) and Colin McCusker (83) make up the rest of the four chosen by the deleagtes in Lurgan on Wednesday night. As expected, veteran Samuel Gardiner (Stormont’s oldest Assembly member) was eliminated at the first stage.
The big surprise is Savage, who was co-opted in November 2014 to fill the Craigavon Borough Council seat vacated by the death of his father and former Assemblyman George Savage, three-times Mayor of Craigavon.
Savage Junior was expected to finish fourth on Wednesday, but he shunted Beattie into third spot, while McCusker – who lost out in 2011 to Gardiner and Dobson in the Assembly poll – came an unexpected number four.
The next step is for the names to be whittled down to three – maybe even two – by party leader Mike Nesbitt and his executive, with Dobson and Beattie the ‘bankers’.
The UUP nominated three in Upper Bann last time, with Gardiner the top vote-catcher and Dobson edging past McCusker in the home straight.
Dobson, who failed to unseat David Simpson in last May’s Westminster poll, is certain to make the selection as she is the only candidate with a Banbridge base. This is augmented by Waringstown and Lurgan where she was first elected to Craigavon council.
McCusker, though, has raised his political profile. He was Craigavon’s last Mayor, causing controversy when he agreed to a Sinn Fein Deputy in Catherine Seeley.
He was also elected to the new ABC Council last May, making it on the 12th count in the Lurgan Ward. He is General Secretary of the UUP which will carry much clout in the executive’s final choice.
Decorated soldier Beattie MC, in his first sortie into politics, made ABC on the eighth count in Portadown, and he too is building up a reputation.
The selection meeting was at Samuel Gardiner’s constituency office in Lurgan, where it soon became obvious he would not be in the frame. A party source said: “Sam accepted the selection gracefully and will continue working on for the party.”
The source added that the choice of Kyle Savage at number two was against all predictions. “If one delegate had switched from Dobson to Savage, they’d have finished level and that would have been one for the book. He put up an impressive show.”