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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz found himself in tears Sunday, as he began the last push of his whistle stop campaigning. In a small mall in the poverty-stricken town of Dimona, Peretz was approached by a man in tears who swore that legislation passed by the Labor leader in 1991 had saved his life.
"There are rumors that the Labor Party has given up, and I tell you they are false, we are fighting for the prime minister's seat," Peretz told The Jerusalem Post. "It was moments like those, when I literally had tears, that make me want to fight harder than ever."
"The other parties are in a huge disconnect," Peretz said, after a day of campaigning that took him across the Negev. "They are disconnected from what the people really want. All day long I've been talking to people and not a single one asked me about security. They all wanted to know how, in actuality, I would improve the quality of their lives through socio-economic programs."
For Amram Moshiv, the man who cried with Peretz in Dimona, it was special health basket legislation that allowed him to receive funds to treat his cancer. Throughout the day however, Peretz received emotional receptions in towns where people have traditionally been Likud.
"That's the reason, right there, that I want to be prime minister," said Peretz. "Other parties may have given up and begun fighting for the number two spot, but I continue to fight."
In past weeks discouraging poll results have led several Labor members to turn to a new campaign strategy that promotes the party as a strong coalition partner, rather than one with a chance of victory.
Peretz, however, swears that he has not condoned the strategy and continues to promise that the election results will be surprising.
"I am not promising that Labor will win," said Peretz. "But I am promising a surprise. I am promising that the polls will be put to shame."
The polls were a main topic of discussion among the Labor candidates who accompanied Peretz on his southern swing. As they stood on the fringes of the cheering crowds, Labor officials spoke of a rumored deal between Likud and Labor to form a coalition and rotate the Prime Minister's Office between them.
"Everyone is scared and talking, but there is no basis to these rumors and if it is happening it is not with my blessing," said Peretz. "I am focusing on the election and the election only. The campaign has my full attention."
Campaigning took him from the grave site of David Ben-Gurion to a small Beduin outpost near Mitzpe Ramon as he engaged constituents in conversations.
In a small tailor's shop in Dimona Peretz had his measurements taken for a new suit. Although his shoulders were too broad and his legs too stout for a traditional fit, in the end, the shopkeeper said he suited her just fine.
"He's not the usual fit, but when you meet him you want to trust him," she said. Although Dimona has traditionally voted Likud, many residents said there was a renewed interest in Labor.
"I used to be a Likudnik in blood but now I am voting for Peretz," said Natan Busmot. "Bibi turned Dimona into a community which is hanging by the skin of its teeth, and Olmert will be even worse. Peretz is one of us."
While Peretz had his measurements taken, other Labor candidates drank coffee, took walks, and played backgammon with shoppers at the local mall. Peretz later met with Amram Mitzna at the Yeroham city council.
"The next government will rise or fall on social issues," Peretz told supporters following the meeting.
While Am Ahad did better than Labor in communities such as Yeroham across the Negev in the last election, the hope, said Peretz, was that those supporters would now move to Labor.
Peretz also repeated his plan to house evacuated settlers in existing Negev communities.
"The Negev is the answer to the settlers. This is where they will be absorbed," he said.