Carla Lockhart topped the poll at a selection meeting for DUP candidates to contest the Upper Bann constituency, it has been learned.
The Lurgan councillor’s name now goes forward to DUP headquarters to decide on the final line-up with Lurgan’s Stephen Moutray and Portadown’s Sydney Anderson (both sitting MLAs) in the running.
It could lead to a difficult choice for the party, which looks set to have two standing in the Assembly poll. Moutray also has strong Lurgan connections while Anderson would have his base in Portadown.
A former Mayor of Craigavon, Carla has been a rising star within the party and her work rate has destined her for the higher echelons in the maelstrom of Northern Ireland politics.
The 30-year-old has become a firm fixture on Lurgan’s political landscape and leads the DUP group on the new Armagh City, Banbridge and Craiagvon Borough Council.
She spearheaded a campaign for funding to create a war museum at Brownlow House and was the party’s poll topper at the supercounil elections, almost at the expense of another Moutray (Phil) who secured his seat on the 12th count (513 first preference votes) compared to Lockhart who was in on the first count (2,013 votes).
It draws the line-up for an interesting inter-unionist battle with Jo-Anne Dobson 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 in the UUP selection process.
Douge Beattie (89 votes) and Colin McCusker (83) make up the rest of the four chosen by the delegates in Lurgan. As expected, veteran Samuel Gardiner (Stormont’s oldest Assembly member) was eliminated at the first stage.
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.