Sources close to Defense Minister Amir Peretz vowed Monday that he will remain in the Labor leadership race and not give up his portfolio despite polls indicating he will lose the May 28 Labor primary. According to polls of Labor members eligible to vote in the race, published in three Hebrew newspapers, Labor MK Ami Ayalon and former prime minister Ehud Barak are the front-runners. MK Ophir Paz-Pines, Peretz and MK Danny Yatom trail far behind.
Analysis: Peretz has nothing to lose
"The polls are not disappointing," a Peretz associate said. "Amir has full control of the largest political camp in Labor and he is the only candidate who can count on his people all coming out to vote en masse. Three months is a long time and we can still win."
Peretz's associates stressed that every poll predicted he would lose to Vice Premier Shimon Peres in the last Labor race in November 2005. But in private conversations, Peretz has talked about quitting politics if he loses the race, Channel 10 reported.
Labor MK Avishay Braverman, who considers himself Ayalon's running mate, called upon Peretz, Yatom and especially Paz-Pines to quit the race and endorse Ayalon.
"Only Ayalon can provide a real alternative and bring the party back to power," Braverman said. "The other three candidates should join together and lead the party with Ami, building a new agenda of diplomatic, security and economic issues, as well as clean governance and social justice."
But all the candidates vowed to remain in the race. Paz-Pines said the polls proved he had a strong base in the party. He said he expected his support to grow now that it was clear Peretz had little chance of winning.
"The cloud of Amir Peretz has fallen," Paz-Pines's spokesman said. "No one has any reason to fear Peretz anymore. People who preferred Ophir but supported Barak or Ayalon because they wanted to block Amir can now come back and support Ophir.
Associates of Barak said he would continue his strategy of running a low-key campaign, focusing on winning the hearts of Labor members while ignoring the press.
According to a Dahaf poll published in Yediot Aharonot, Ayalon is the leading candidate, with 28 percent, followed by Barak 26%, Peretz 19%, Paz-Pines 17% and Yatom 6%. A TSN poll in Ma'ariv gave Barak 31%, Ayalon 27%, Paz-Pines 19%, Peretz 13% and Yatom 4%. In Haaretz's dialogue poll, Barak led with 25%, followed by Ayalon 23%, Peretz 19%, Pines-Paz 15% and Yatom 5%.
In all three polls, Ayalon would defeat Barak in a likely run-off race, receiving the support from backers of Paz-Pines, Peretz and Yatom. Peretz would lose in a run-off to either Ayalon or Barak.
The Ma'ariv poll also asked Labor members who they supported for the presidency. Ironically, 73% said they backed Peres, Kadima's candidate; 9% said they supported Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, who has never announced his candidacy; and just 8% said the most fitting candidate was Labor's Colette Avital.