Labor's revolution may have arrived Tuesday night, but not in the way the party had predicted.
As early results streamed into the party headquarters in Tel Aviv's Hatikva neighborhood, activists cheered and threw confetti as they promised that the final results would be much higher than the 20-22 mandates predicted in exit polls.
While that figure fell short of the 30 mark set by hopeful party activists earlier in the day, the distance between Labor and Kadima (polled at 29-32 mandates) appeared surmountable to candidates gathered before the telescreens.
"The significance of these results is that they make Kadima and Labor the two major parties to be contended with," said MK Danny Yatom. "It makes us a major player... These results are a direct compliment to [Amir] Peretz and the way he managed our campaign, even when people were trying to convince him to act differently. Peretz led us to success."
Others were quick to point out that if Labor chose to make a move to form its own coalition, other parties might find Peretz a far more attractive coalition partner than Kadima's Ehud Olmert.
"Last week, Olmert was pompous, he handed out the ministries as if they were candy," said one Labor official. "What does that leave Tue.-Wed. for other parties if they join Olmert's coalition? They know in Labor they might have more room to grow and find themselves in ministerial positions."
For many, the true revolution was not in Labor's success among the voters, but in where those voters came from.
"We have seen a drastic shift in the map of constituencies in Israel," said MK Shalom Simhon. "Areas that have never voted Labor are voting nearly unanimously for Peretz, according to some early results."
Simhon, who represents the moshavim on the Labor list, said that many development towns in the South which have historically voted Likud were coming out in droves to support Peretz.
"For years people have been saying that these voters should be casting their ballots for Labor, but instead they were stuck in the Likud fantasy," said one Labor spokesman. "These voters... the blue-collar core of Israel, have finally come to where they should have always been - Labor."
MK Eitan Cabel, the Labor Knesset faction chairman, said that Peretz's success in bringing over the new voting group assured his position as party chairman.
"No one should believe or give any countenance to the talk of replacing Peretz now," said MK Colette Avital. "He's the party hero."
Support for Peretz seemed absolute, as candidates rushed to praise the socioeconomic campaign that he had brought to Labor.
"What is important is that Labor has set the agenda," said Ami Ayalon, No. 6 on the party list. "There is a feeling that these numbers show a real victory. Humanitarian issues will be at the forefront of the next Knesset."
While Peretz did not arrive at the headquarters to hear the early results, numerous MKs present hinted that he was excited about the potential they represented.
"If the space between us and Kadima is so small, there are many options on the table," said one Labor official. "The coalition talks will be long and difficult, because we know we will be major players now. Maybe even the major player."
As midnight neared, talk that Peretz would arrive any minute grew, and young activists prepared balloons and confetti for him.