Two horse Ulster Unionist race

So Danny Kennedy has now withdrawn from the UUP leadership contest.

It is quite a turn around from Monday when one of his aides briefed me that the minister was definitely in the running, and enjoyed the backing of the majority of his assembly party.

After that, however, Mr Kennedy's behaviour proved far from decisive - refusing to confirm his intentions on camera. He seems to have been spooked by Mike Nesbitt's energetic courting of support in Fermanagh and elsewhere.

Then there was the Strangford MLA's coup in securing the backing of Mr Kennedy's own Stormont ministerial secretary Danny Kinahan.

The Newry and Armagh MLA is an easy going character who does not relish confrontation.

That is one reason why relations between the UUP and the DUP have been so much more amicable inside the Stormont Executive than during the old days when Peter Robinson and Sammy Wilson fought running battles with the former Health Minister Michael McGimpsey.

Mr Kennedy also decided to remain in his own comfort zone when a move to Upper Bann might have held out the prospect of a much needed breakthrough for the Ulster Unionist Conservative New Force back in the Westminster elections in 2010. So maybe Friday's withdrawal should not come as a big surprise.

Mr Kennedy says no deal has been done with either of the remaining leadership candidates - so we shall have to wait and see how long he remains the party's only Stormont minister.

Barring some unforeseen development, the way now appears clear for a Mike Nesbitt victory.

The Strangford MLA is likely to mop up more of the support which went to Tom Elliott last time than John McCallister, who will do well to build on the vote garnered by his liberal ally Basil McCrea. The margin of victory in September 2010 was 643 votes to 294.

Pressure is likely to be placed on Mr McCallister to stand aside in order to enable a smooth transition of power to Mr Nesbitt. In his withdrawal statement, Mr Kennedy talked about the dangers of a "divisive leadership contest".

However my understanding is that Mr McCallister is not happy about Mr Nesbitt's characterisation of his preference for a rapid move into opposition as a "blind leap".

Even if Mr Nesbitt's eventual margin of victory is high, the McCallister camp believes it is better for the Ulster Unionists to debate the arguments for and against opposition than to hold no contest.

Mr McCallister's supporters point out that Gordon Brown became Labour leader unopposed in 2007, but holding such a "coronation" did not feel like such a smart idea when the party fought an election three years later.