Blue and White leaders Benny Gantz (L) and Yair Lapid (R) embrace during a campaign event, February 21st, 2019.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
The clock struck 10:00 and Blue and White headquarters exploded! They had finally unseated Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Or had they?
Blue and White only followed Channel 12 which had Blue and White prime ministerial candidate Benny Gantz winning 37 seats compared to Netanyahu’s 33.
But the other two television channels showed a dead heat.
The small number of Blue and White activists brought out to party in front of the massive media presence at their headquarters should the results be in their favor continued to show a victory atmosphere.
But as of 10:30 p.m., Blue and White was only issuing victorious messages, not taking the stage and the picture was still blurry about whether the more than three month election marathon was over.
Yael German, number 13 on the list, said that the results unequivocally proved that the party deserved to be given the mandate to form the next coalition by President Reuven Rivlin.
The day started with optimistic predictions from Gantz as he was voting in the morning that the Likud “has realized that we are going to be the biggest party… We are going to win. We’re half a meter away. One final push and we’re going to get it done.”
Likewise, Gantz’s partner, Yair Lapid, posted a video of him boxing, sending out the message that the party will fight for every vote.
Lapid also made his last pitch to pull Center-Left and possibly Center-Right votes from other parties, saying, “We need two more seats to win these historic elections in Israel. A vote for any party except Blue and White is a vote for Netanyahu.”
This worked into the early stages of the Gantz campaign. Though a former IDF chief of staff, he emerged from being a complete political novice to giving an extremely well-received opening speech to a stunning success in convincing Lapid to join him, while letting him take the lead spot.
But as Election Day went on, there were mixed signals.
On one hand, total voter turnout and Arab voter turnout were down, both of which could be discouraging for Blue and White to achieve its two major missions: getting the most votes and being able to block Netanyahu from forming a coalition.
On the other hand, Netanyahu himself continued sending out messages that he was near losing.
There was also a variety of fake news and fraud complaint reports, with Lapid warning midday of anti-Blue and White activists tossing or invalidating their voting slips to try to get some of their votes disqualified.
These warnings seemed mild compared to the scale of many warnings prior to Election Day, but they also gave a feeling of the campaign being unsettled.
This being unsettled worked into the second stage of the campaign in which Gantz fell in the polls from a high of 37 predicted seats and a decisive victory over Netanyahu to under 30 seats (in some polls) and a likely losing hand going into Election Day.
The fall in the polls came following confusing and muddled messaging between Gantz and Lapid as well as Blue and White’s other two former IDF chiefs of staff, who seemed to thrive on the new attention they were getting without concerns about message discipline.
Gantz himself also faltered with a series of poor performing interviews. In one interview, he reported Channel 12 anchorwoman Yonit Levi’s name half-a-dozen times when he lost some of his cool and was not sure how to cope with sustained questioning on an uncomfortable topic.
Leaks of a series of embarrassing private comments he made to the media and Netanyahu’s brilliant lineup of global achievements – like the Trump administration’s recognition of the Golan Heights and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s assistance in returning the body of decades long-lost soldier Zachary Baumel – also did not help.
Around 7:00 p.m., Gantz sent out a short message, looking and sounding more stressed and more determined than during most of the campaign, in which he pleaded with voters to get to the polls.
Around 8:30 p.m., there was a slight flurry of activity and optimism when it was announced that the Central Elections Committee would view vandalized Blue and White ballots as valid.
Of course, it was still unclear how many votes this would swing toward Gantz and how many votes would be too vandalized to count even under the committee’s more lenient standard.
At 9:30 p.m., a teenage kid started handing out Blue and White flags and activists came out to face the enormous video screen.
Then came the 10:00 p.m. eruption. And maybe later in the night that eruption will be the turning point. But as of 10:30 p.m., there was still tension in victory-land and it looked like there was still one more act to play out in the marathon.
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