The bookies were keeping hope alive in Ballina. Some time after noon on Wednesday there was a flurry of excitement among a small group of men peering at their phones near the Joe Biden mural on Market Square.
“He is 1/3 now,” exclaimed David O’Malley, chairman of the Ballina Community Clean-Up group, which commissioned the mural. “Is that good?” we wondered. “He was 3/1 at 10 o’clock,” explained the solicitor, who reckoned tracking the odds was as good a way of keeping up with this nail-biting US presidential election as keeping an eye on the news channels.
O’Malley backed Ballina’s favourite son in the contest at 6/4 several months ago, and now he is dreaming of the factory that Joe Biden will bring to Ballina, “although I suppose we should not be getting too ambitious just yet”.
Joe Blewitt wasn't confirming or denying if he had financial skin in the game. He's the Democratic contender's third cousin once removed. "Maybe tomorrow I will be his second cousin," he laughed, his spirits better than they had been when he woke at dawn after just two hours' sleep.
The plumber made international headlines when he painted a slogan supporting his famous relative on his work van. "Joe Biden for the White House and Joe Blewitt for Your House," it reads.
Blewitt didn’t get much sleep on Tuesday night. “I went to bed at 4am. It wasn’t looking good and then when I went to bed I was dreaming all night that the FBI were after me and that wasn’t great either.”
He woke at 6am, checked his phone and felt even worse.
“It is looking better now but it is still tight enough,” he said at lunchtime. “I’d say [US president Donald] Trump is nervous after what he came out with this morning.”
He wouldn’t be a Trump fan even if his relative wasn’t involved. “The things he comes out with. Imagine Michael D [Higgins] coming out with that kind of stuff.”
Joe Blewitt wasn’t too surprised when by mid-morning people were asking on the radio if Biden was the wrong candidate after all.
“It’s the age thing. Of course he is a good age, but he was the best they had.”
People in Ballina are proud of the fact that Biden has visited their town twice – once in 2016 as vice-president and again in 2017, when he turned the sod on Mayo’s first hospice.
“He is just a very nice man. He is a family man and he went through a lot of tragedy in his life,” said Blewitt, whose three children are also huge Biden fans since they met him.
“He said to my wife, Deirdre: ‘Hold them, and hold them tight.’ He has great presence about him. He is not disrespectful to people. He is a gentleman, probably too much of a gentleman for that game,” said Blewitt.
Local historian PJ Blake (81) said it would be good for Ballina if Biden wins. He briefly met the candidate when he did a walkabout of the town on his last visit.
“I shook hands with him over there. It was only a two-minute wonder. But I found him gracious.”
Mayo Independent county councillor Mark Duffy was enjoying the political drama which was creating a rollercoaster of emotions in Ballina all day Wednesday.
"We are very proud of the Biden connection. Regardless of what happens over the next 24 hours, there has been huge publicity for the town," he said, pointing out that CNN, NBC, Sky News and AFP have all come to see the place which Edward Blewitt, Biden's great-great-great-grandfather, left in 1850.
“Edward Blewitt worked for the Ordnance Survey so he literally put Ballina on the map, and now his descendant is doing that again,” said the councillor.
‘On a knife-edge’
Cllr Duffy said on Wednesday that he knew the US election was “still on a knife-edge” but he couldn’t help but dream.
“We are all hoping Air Force One will touch down in Knock airport in 2021,” said the politician.
Joe Biden has been told about the mural in Ballina created by local artists Smiler Mitchell and Leslie Lackey, and he has also enjoyed the online chatter over Joe Blewitt's van.
“He got a great kick out of the van,” said the plumber.
Meanwhile, as they continued to keep an eye on the odds, the locals also had a big screen erected close the mural, from where the CNN number crunchers were to be beamed if, as expected, the drama continued for some time.
“There may not be white smoke for 48 hours, we know that,” said Cllr Duffy. “Joe Biden knows about the mural and he has said: ‘Tell Ballina I will be back.’ We know it’s not just politics. He holds the connection dear.”
Joe Blewitt wasn’t taking anything for granted.
“I am still very nervous but it is going in the right direction. It could be dragged out. Trump will go the messy route. He won’t go without a fight.”