Say cheese: George Lee canvassing in Dundrum last week

'I'm starting to enjoy this," George grins, doing a half-pirouette on the freshly emptied Luas platform in Dundrum. So he should. It's a love-in. Total-surrender, unexpurgated, shameless, unconditional love. Those tremors underfoot are not the reverberations of rush-hour. That's the ground breaking. And out of the cracks, a phenomenon is sprouting. Every three minutes, a tram glides away southwards full of converts clutching his canvass card, faces glazed with devotion.

Another tram pulls in bearing travellers from the city. The Messiah cometh to meet them.

"You're okay. Guaranteed," beams a woman with a bun of white hair.

"You're a good man to go for it," says another. "I hope it works."

They're slinking on to the platform, weary as the working week crawls towards Friday, but what's this? An orderly queue is forming at the top of the exit stairs. They want to shake his hand. "Delighted to hear you're running," chirrups a woman dragging a sullen schoolboy in her wake.

"You're a great man so you are. A group of us were talking about you at work. We're all voting for you."

"Hello Mister Lee. You're so famous. You're sure of my vote. No sell needed."

"You're the man for the job," pronounces a sophisticated blonde with sunglasses on her head. "I hope you do well. You're just so good at what you do. The shame, George, is we'll have nobody fighting for us when you leave RTÉ."

"Thank you," smirks RTÉ's erstwhile economics editor. "You should come on the campaign with me." Why, if it isn't Mister Doom & Gloom – flirting! Funny how we never noticed the twinkle behind the spectacles all those years he was warning morbidly against individualisation and excessive personal debt.

Earlier, when he arrived at the station for his first non-photo-op canvass, his director of elections, Fine Gael's education spokesman Brian Hayes, had thrust a batch of the newly printed canvass cards towards him.

"Vote No 1 George Lee," they scream. "A straight talker with credibility." In the picture, he has a pink shirt, no tie and hosts of celestial clouds behind his head. He looks like he's in heaven.

In fact, he was in career limbo when the photos were taken a week previously, still working in RTÉ among colleagues as oblivious as his audience of the bombshell he dropped last Wednesday.

"I'll never get rid of all these," he wails, looking askance at his wad of fliers hot off the initial print run of 4,000 copies which, Hayes assures him, will be gone in a week.

"He's a very good candidate," adjudges his seasoned minder, watching Lee anchoring departing passengers by the elbow and explaining the psycho-social dynamics of economics. "He looks in their eyes. You should have heard him at the [selection] convention last night. He spoke for 40 minutes without a script. It felt like 20."

Everything feels out of sync now. Ask him what time his first full day as a candidate started and he says: "It was a photo call at eight, I think." Ask him, as Hayes does, if he wants something to eat. "I dunno. Mike, have I eaten?"

"Three o'clock. Buswells. A hot tuna roll," recites his PR handler from head office, Mike Miley, a nephew of the party's former general secretary, Jim Miley.

It's a contagion. When he told his 12-year-old son, Harry, he was going to stand for election to the Dáil, the child replied: "That's great... Is it?"

Yes, if you're Fine Gael. They've got a celebrity, a people's hero and a media pro all parcelled up in one personable package.

Rolling up at Rathfarnham Shopping Centre at 18 minutes past midday for the official launch of Enda Kenny's nationwide tour, Lee steps out of the car, takes one look at the slew of old colleagues awaiting him, registers a predominance of features and colour writers, and feeds us our copy.

"That's where I made my first money," says the Templeogue native, pointing at a spot on yonder road. He was 11. He found six quid, handed it in at the garda station, waited a year and a day and went back for it when nobody had claimed it. What did he spend it on? "I probably bought a mouse or a hamster. I wouldn't have bought chocolate."

Later, ambling past a branch of Bank of Ireland, he stops to wallow a while in nostalgia. "I had my first bank account there. We all got vouchers for one pound in school and you had to put another pound in." It's the sort of advertising Bank of Ireland couldn't pay for, until he clarifies: "I don't have an account there any longer." Moment over.

His old colleagues in journalism can fulminate for Ireland about how he led us a merry dance.

Or they can speculate till the cows come home about how glad really are the likes of Richard Bruton, Alan Shatter and Olivia Mitchell to have a fiscal heavyweight parachuted into Dublin South.

It makes no odds to the voters. They just want to thank him for quitting his €150,000 job to save the country. They tell him he's their only hope. They're praying for him. "God bless you and thank you," says an elderly woman accompanied by her daughter. "I used to do the collection with your father at mass in St Pius IX," says a man in a flat cap. "God be good to you."

The women are going mad for him. "Ye're nicer in the flesh lads," shrieks a shopper, launching herself at Kenny and Lee outside the supermarket. She doles out a hug for the party leader; a hug plus three lusty smackers on the cheek for his protege. "You'll get my vote." Her daughter is standing off to the side, calling: "Mum, mum!" Just as everyone else is beginning to share her mortification, she adds: "Mum, remember what I said? A vote for George is a vote for freedom. He's the next Obama."

In Ashley Reeves clothes shop, they swarm around him. "You were putting us on the right line but nobody'd listen to you," summed up one lady, ditching a hanger of nautical stripes to deliver a potted history of the Celtic Tiger. "Well, I tried anyway," says the modest Mr Lee. "Get in there and sort the country out," urges another, failing to mention if they have black tights in his size, to match his red T-shirt. The one with the big 'S' on the front.

No candidate is perfect, though. This one is going to be a nightmare for his handlers. For he will insist on analysing affairs of the nation with the voters.

Outside Remax estate agents – a family home in Stillorgan for €575,000 displayed in the window – a voter wants to know: "Will you be interested in doing something about other things, not just the economy?"

Her child is one of 180 students with special education needs in a local school where transport and resource teachers have been eliminated. "That's the problem," says Lee. "The decisions being made don't take into account the whole social values we have." She thanks him. "It's great to have somebody with integrity going up."

Enda's chuffed. But he should beware. Back at the Luas station in the evening, Fine Gael's great white hope is elaborating on his I-want-to-look-my-grandkids-in-the-eye-idealism: denounced as "spin" by some of his old and his new colleagues and damned with the faint praise of "naivety" by some others.

Reiterating that he sought no promise of a cabinet position from Kenny as a quid pro quo, he's reminded that responsibility is all well and good, but you need power to effect change. "It will work. It will. Do you know why? Because people want it. They want change," he says in that familiar sermon-on-the-mount voice.

"I believe Fine Gael can't ignore it any more than the government. If you add any new ingredient to the pot, you change the mix."

When the party first approached him seven years ago, he admits, he considered it for about two weeks. "I was at a different stage and it wasn't the same story. Now it's broken. You can't be a rebel without a cause." He's not setting out to be a personality, he argues. He's that already.

Only nobody's told the fellow in the hi-viz jacket from Veolia, operators of the Luas. "Do you have permission from Luas Control to hand out leaflets?" he demands in an exotic accent. "This is private property. They're watching you now on the CCTV."

Lee's alarm, one suspects, has nothing to do with finding himself back on the telly so soon. "I'll sort it out," Brian Hayes promises, and follows the Luas worker for a tactful word.

Five minutes later, three Veolia officials arrive in force, bearing down on the canvassers. "Will you give me one of those," demands the grim-faced boss, reaching for one of the canvass cards in Lee's hand. "I live in the area. I'll be voting, Mr Lee."