'Mr. Security is from Mars, but is Mrs. Clean from Venus?'

Analysis: How Livni and Mofaz's campaign strategists will frame their candidates.

livni mofaz duet 88 (photo credit: )
livni mofaz duet 88
(photo credit: )
While the real battle between Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Transportation Minister Shaul Mofaz to replace Ehud Olmert as Kadima leader and prime minister is taking place among the 30,000 Kadima members and not the wider public, the two front-runners have retained the services of skilled campaign consultants to convince both the party membership and the public that their candidate is worthy of Israel's top job. Livni's core team consists of kingmakers Reuven Adler and Eyal Arad, the duo that established Kadima for Ariel Sharon and got him elected as prime minister. On Mofaz's side is world-renowned political strategist Arthur Finkelstein. While Livni is ahead in the latest polls, Mofaz is closing the gap, and the momentum seems to be with him - hence Livni's announcement Monday that she had formally hired Adler and Co. Within the general population, Livni is more popular, but in the crucial Kadima membership, Mofaz is stronger. Livni's team has until September 17 to stem Mofaz's surge, while the latter will attempt to keep his momentum going. Mofaz's team will position its candidate as Mr. Security: a former IDF chief of General Staff and defense minister, currently heading the strategic dialogue with the US, whose entire life was spent fighting Israel's enemies and who is, as such, the candidate to steer the Jewish state through what are undoubtedly stormy security seas to come. Livni's team will position her as a strong Mrs. Clean, as Sharon's successor, and as someone who can restore the country's faith in the political system in general and in Kadima in particular. Kadima was founded on the promise of being different from the corrupt Likud, especially its notorious Central Committee. That image has been largely destroyed by Olmert, former finance minister Avraham Hirchson, MK Tzahi Hanegbi and others. That Livni's hands are politically clean, after all the corruption that has flooded this country of late, is the foreign minister's strongest selling point. Mofaz's team won't attack Livni's reputation as a clean politician; there's nothing there to attack. The attacks will focus on Livni's inexperience in security and diplomatic matters. They will say there is so little to say about Livni's experience, because there is so little experience there - no daring raids into enemy territory (Livni herself debunked a foreign media report saying she was once on the Mossad's terrorist-hunting team). She's not a leader of men, they will say, playing to Israelis' deep need for a guardian. Countering the attacks on her lack of experience, Livni will stress that she has been present in all the important security meetings over the past several years. While Livni's image as Mrs. Clean is rock-solid, Mofaz's brand asset as Mr. Security can be challenged. The strategy will be to point out that it was under Mofaz's watch as chief of General Staff that Israel withdrew from southern Lebanon in such disarray, and it was under the eyes of defense minister Mofaz that Hizbullah built its war machine that ultimately fought the IDF to a standstill in the summer of 2006. And besides, how much security has Mofaz done lately, stuck there in the Transportation Ministry? Under these attacks, Mofaz will have to be careful about defending his Mr. Security credentials too strenuously, because if he does say something tough, for instance, on Iran, he is liable to drive up world oil prices - another button Livni's people are sure to press. So Mofaz will have to reinforce his brand-asset in other areas, like talking tough on the Palestinian and Syrian tracks and attacking Livni on her compromises to Palestinian negotiator Ahmed Qurei in Annapolis-track negotiations. Mofaz will stress no return of the Golan Heights, ever; no division of Jerusalem, ever; and no territorial compromise with the Palestinians until they defeat terrorism. This hard line will also serve to endear Mofaz to the Likud, presenting the possibility of forming a coalition or unity government with Binaymin Netanyahu's party. Kadima members will like this because many of them are former Likudniks. But more importantly, they will throw their support behind the candidate they believe is more likely to form a government, and not someone whose shaky reign will lead to rapid general elections and a likely demise of Kadima. Livni's team will work to convince Kadima members that she is capable of forming a stable coalition, or even unity government, by keeping Shas and Labor close, and tempting others with messages that resonate as widely as possible in the Knesset: electoral reform, the education crisis and the Iranian threat. Livni will also have to work hard to convince Kadima members that she can look after their material interests, as they are more prone to seeing Mofaz as someone who can "get jobs for the boys." In this regard, she will have to tread carefully between "looking after the boys" and being "a different kind of politician." She cannot be seen to make deals that damage her brand asset: Mrs. Clean. Livni fell into a trap Tuesday in one of her many interviews, when she was asked if being a woman made her life in politics in any way harder. Livni's cool, detached answer was that she didn't care about this issue, and that being a woman had never hampered her in any of her previous jobs. That answer was pounced on by political analysts, who slammed the foreign minister for making light of gender inequality in the Israeli establishment. While trying to position her as a strong, secure Mrs. Clean to rival Mofaz's Mars, Livni's strategists will be careful now not to let her stray too far from Venus. For more of Amir Mizroch's articles, see his personal blog Forecast Highs.