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When Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert took over for Prime Minister Ariel Sharon after his stroke, Olmert was praised for adopting a statesmanlike demeanor and abandoning his antagonistic personality overnight.
The Olmert of the wild, colorful neckties and the daily attacks on his rivals in media interviews was replaced by an Olmert who wore more serious, solid ties and limited his public exposure the way Sharon did. Olmert gave his old job of attacking politicians on Sharon's behalf to National Infrastructure Minister Roni Bar-On.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's advisers bragged about successfully molding another politician into a prime minister with Olmert, who they said had been an easier project than Sharon.
But Olmert has gradually allowed his personality to come out, as poll after poll predicted that Kadima had not been impacted by such tremors as Sharon's hospitalization, the transfer of power to Olmert, Hamas's election victory, the violence in Amona and a series of corruption scandals.
A Dialogue poll that was taken during reports that State Comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss was investigating the sale of Olmert's residence found that Kadima had only lost one seat to the Likud, maintaining a massive 39 to 14 advantage.
With such numbers, it is no wonder that Olmert has become less cautious about being himself. He started off last Sunday when he used a rally at Kadima's Petah Tikva headquarters to attack Netanyahu and Labor chairman Amir Peretz.
Olmert didn't let it all out until the first Knesset Foreign Affairs Committee meeting he addressed as acting prime minister on Wednesday, when he looked for any excuse to attack Netanyahu. He even traded barbs with National Union MK Effi Eitam, an indulgence that most prime ministers would have the willpower to resist.
Eitam and Likud MKs eagerly told reporters at the Knesset that the old Olmert was back and the statesmanlike Olmert was gone. They expressed hope that the voters would realize that they were getting a prime minister who was decidedly un-Sharonlike and finally return to the parties they left to join Kadima.
"Olmert has become more Bibi than Bibi," a Likud official said, using his own party chairman's name as a synonym for behaving in an un-prime ministerial-like manner. Likud officials said that Olmert's statement about being proud that he allowed Palestinians to vote in Jerusalem would be used in the Likud's commercials.
Kadima's strategists responded that Olmert was not acting like Netanyahu but like Sharon, who enjoyed stinging his rivals in Knesset sessions. One strategist even read Olmert's anti-Netanyahu quotes in a voice imitating Sharon to emphasize that Olmert had not strayed from Sharon's paradigm.
It's that fine line between the behavior of Sharon and Netanyahu that Olmert must tread carefully between now and March 28 to win the 40 seats that Sharon won as head of the Likud. If he is successful, he can feel free to be himself all he wants after that.
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