Big parties look to local races as bellwether

All three parties said they hoped for great success relative to their numbers and each set different goals.

livni kadima 224 88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
livni kadima 224 88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski )
Tuesday's municipal elections will be used by the three largest parties - Kadima, the Likud and Labor - to test their strength ahead of the February 10 general election, sources in the parties said Monday. Each party invested millions of shekels in local races, but Kadima was able to invest the most money because public funding for parties is determined by their representation in the Knesset. This put the Likud, which has only 12 Knesset seats, at a big disadvantage. Kadima is fielding 86 mayoral candidates in more than 100 of the 159 local authorities that are holding elections on Tuesday. The Likud is running in some 50 localities and has mayoral candidates in 33 of them. Labor is running in 73 races and has 29 candidates for mayor. All three parties said they hoped for great success relative to their numbers and each set different goals based on their current strength. Kadima, which uses its mayors as its top grassroots activists in the field, hopes to use the municipal races to strengthen the base of the three-year-old party. "Tomorrow is a test of our leadership," Kadima leader Tzipi Livni told her faction Monday. "We will be tested on our ability to win. If we succeed, we can go to the general elections with the help of strong leadership on the municipal level." Vice premier Haim Ramon, who heads the party's municipal campaign, said the election would "prove that beyond being the ruling party, we also have the deepest roots and we will continue to be a dominant party for years to come. Dozens of mayors will carry us to victory." Likud Director-General Gadi Arieli said the party made a special effort with limited funding to run under the party banner as often as possible instead of supporting satellite parties running under other names at the local level. The Likud made a point of featuring party chairman Binyamin Netanyahu's face in ads for candidates across the country to capitalize on the Likud's current strength nationally in the polls. "We are not expecting a big victory," Arieli said, setting low expectations. "If we keep what we have and grow by a few percent, we will be satisfied." Labor officials said they hoped success in Tuesday's race would quiet down talk of the party gradually disintegrating en route to an eventual merger with Kadima. Labor chairman Ehud Barak invited camera crews to watch him vote in Tel Aviv for incumbent Labor Mayor Ron Huldai to demonstrate the vitality of his party. "We think we will maintain our current strength," Labor spokesman Lior Rothbart said.