Despite holding a grueling campaign to win the party nominations, Ms Anne Waiguru, the Jubilee Party candidate for the Kirinyaga governor’s seat, appears to be fighting another back-breaking duel against a resurgent Martha Karua of Narc Kenya.
Early this week, Ms Waiguru faced a hostile crowd in Kibingo market in Kirinyaga Central Constituency.
This was the first time she was facing such a reception, as Ms Karua’s prospects rise in what is turning out to be a race too close to call.
Ms Waiguru has of late been battling questions of her origins as locals claim that she does not speak the authentic local dialect.
This has not distracted her, but Ms Karua’s grassroots campaigners are upbeat that things are looking up for the candidate who initially appeared the underdog.
They cite a recent opinion poll indicating that Ms Karua is likely to win the election, providing perhaps the biggest upset of the election.
In what took the sting away from the advantage the Jubilee candidate would have enjoyed against her rivals, President Kenyatta announced he was willing to work with whoever wins.
READ: Waiguru, Karua clash as Uhuru visits Kirinyaga
This gave Ms Karua the leeway to campaign without the worries of the Jubilee juggernaut.
Ms Karua is a veteran of the campaign trail having defeated once powerful Kenyatta-era head of civil service Geoffrey Kareithi in 1992 and went on to retain the Gichugu seat until 2013 when she opted to run for president.
Essentially, she has campaigned in every election year since 1992 and won in four.
But analysts say that the battle for governor’s office will be decided by either the regional rivalry of Gichugu and larger Ndia or Jubilee Party loyalty.
The choice of running mates is now also the talk of the county.
If Gichugu/Ndia (Ndia and Kirinyaga Central constituencies) rivalry rears its head, Ms Karua will most likely carry the day.
This was not lost on locals when she chose outgoing Kirinyaga Central MP Gachoki Gitari as her running mate.
This choice has endeared her to the larger Ndia residents who may not judge her from her past record as MP for Gichugu but her credentials on the national stage and the fact that one of their own is her running mate.
The current voter register shows that the Ndia dialect speaking people who inhabit Ndia and Kirinyaga Central have 66,083 and 76,021 voters respectively. That is a total of 142,104 voters.
Mwea on its part has the largest population and its inhabitants are from as far away as Ukambani, Embu, Mbeere and other parts of Central Kenya. It has 122,380 voters.
Gichugu, where both Ms Waiguru and Ms Karua come from, has 85,352 voters.
Therefore, if the regional politics plays out with Ms Karua sharing their constituency of Gichugu, and Mwea tilts towards Ms Waiguru where her running mate comes from, then the election will be too close to call.
During the nominations, Ms Waiguru clinched Jubilee Party ticket with 100,632 votes.
Mr Gitari Gachoki, who came second, garnered 46,678 votes.
However, if the voters decide to back the Jubilee candidate, Ms Waiguru will have it easy.
Dr John M Nyaga, a professional and an opinion leader in the county, said Ms Waiguru’s record at the Ministry of Devolution that was rocked by the NYS scandal could not be wished away.
“The debate on NYS does not seem to go away. It’s her Achilles heel.
“When the President visited the region he did not campaign for the Jubilee candidate and that tells a lot.
“We have also seen that she can’t sustain a conversation in the Gichugu dialect for long and Kirinyaga people, taking pride in their language, have questioned her origin,” he said.
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He said Ms Karua’s record of 20 years in which she was not caught up in any scandal and her celebrated national appeal and courage is working for her.
Locals remember her fondly for protecting Mwai’s Kibaki’s disputed win in 2007, prompting some to call her the only man in the Kibaki administration’s top echelons.
Ms Karua also once walked out on President Daniel arap Moi, at a time the Head of State was a demigod.
But it will not be an easy ride for the two powerful women, since the Kirinyaga Governor Joseph Ndathi has the advantage of incumbency.
Despite polling lowly in opinion polls, Mr Ndathi is confident that having been at the county helm for four years, it will be an uphill task for his rivals to dislodge him from the seat.
“I’m highly experienced in administration and strong enough politically and it will not be easy for my opponents to beat me,” he said.
In a recent poll, Ms Karua was placed as being ahead of all her opponents commanding a staggering 61 per cent followed by Anne Waiguru at 33.
The margin of error was + 3.2 per cent at 95 per cent confidence level.
The telephone poll was conducted in the five sub counties of Kirinyaga County on July 21, 2017 to investigate voter preference for governor in the coming election.
The 2,540 people interviewed were from the 20 wards of the county.
It appears that the gubernatorial contest is between Ms Karua and Ms Waiguru and the county is poised to have a woman governor.