The humourous Twitter exchange came after Upper Bann MLA Doug Beattie commenting on media reports that the two were both vying for the position, offered to mud wrestle his party colleague for the position.
Amid lots of laughing emblems, on Sunday night Mr Beattie commented on speculation about their possible battle, saying: “Hey Butler..... you up for a mud wrestle?”
Mr Butler, who left the Fire Service to become an MLA, later replied: “In the Fire Service we called these things ‘bare bellies in the yard’”.
This prompted Royal Irish veteran Doug Beattie to respond: “I would have an unfair advantage” presumably because he would be slightly heavier than his colleague.
The exchange, which came after current UUP leader Steve Aiken announced he is to stand down, seemed to go down well with observers across the political spectrum on social media.
SDLP councillor Séamas de Faoite chipped in: “Things I didn’t need to see suggested just before bed” with the hashtag #UUPNightTerrors.
Another contributor commented: “Careful Doug, you’ll start giving the impression that Unionist politicians have a sense of humour.”
The exchange comes in the midst of an apparently tense battle between DUP MLA Edwin Poots and Sir Jeffrey Donaldson for the leadership of the DUP.
Both Poots and Donaldson share the same office in Lisburn, but the party has reportedly clamped down on media interviews about the contest.
Butler and Beattie are known to relate positively to each other in their work in the UUP. Mr Beattie campaigns on socially liberal issues and is being mooted as a clear favourite to lead the UUP, while Mr Butler wears his Christian faith on his sleeve as a politician.
In 2018 he faced stiff public criticism from political rivals for attending a civic reception for Pope Francis in Dublin.
“I felt it was the right thing to do – if you can’t be a good neighbour you can’t expect to have good neighbours,” Mr Butler said.
“I went to Dublin as Christian, Protestant and a unionist and I came back as a Christian, Protestant and a unionist.”
At the time Mr Beattie strongly defended his colleague’s decision to go to Dublin.
“Those who know Robbie Butler will know he is a committed Christian,” Mr Beattie said. “He is open, welcoming and compassionate yet a fiercely loyal unionist MLA. Proud to call him my friend and colleague.”
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