(Bloomberg) -- Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar suffered a difficult start to his re-election bid, with one early projection suggesting his party faces defeat in next month’s general election.

Varadkar was accused of politicizing an incident in Dublin when a homeless man suffered serious injuries as authorities removed his tent with him it, unknown to them. Varadkar told reporters that the city’s mayor - a member of the main opposition party Fianna Fail - should comment on the episode. The mayoral position is a largely ceremonial role, with little executive power.

Varadkar’s chief rival, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin, called Varadkar’s response “extraordinary,” adding that was “not how I do politics.”

The incident throws an early spotlight on housing and homelessness, undermining Varadkar’s efforts to focus on the economy and his role in winning a deal to keep the Irish border invisible after Brexit. A government led by Fine Gael can secure the best trade deal with the U.K. after it exits the European Union, Varadkar said on Thursday in Dublin.

As yet, there’s little sign of that message cutting through.

Fine Gael could drop to 44 lawmakers from the 50 it had after the last election, according to Eoin O’Malley, a politics lecturer at Dublin City University. That would be the party’s worst result since 2002. Fianna Fail would be the biggest party under O’Malley’s projection. With 58 seats, it would still be short of the 80 needed for an overall majority.

The election will be held on Feb. 8

To contact the reporter on this story: Peter Flanagan in Dublin at pflanagan23@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Ambereen Choudhury at achoudhury@bloomberg.net, Dara Doyle

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