Peretz is premier in hometown of Sderot

A woman let out a shrill yell, and a young activist strummed his guitar as Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz voted in his hometown of Sderot while flowers were literally strewn about his feet. The crowd that gathered around Peretz matched the mood of his campaign - grassroots, homespun and completely devoted to the socioeconomic revolution that it believes will begin with the closing of the voting booths. "It doesn't matter what happens today, we have already won," said Peretz, as he left his home Tuesday morning with his wife, children and two dogs trailing energetically behind. "We brought the ideological issues that matter to the heart of our campaign and put them in the public eye." As Peretz entered the voting booth at the town's local swimming pool, Labor activists danced outside and sang, "One of us will finally be prime minister." The real victory, they said, was in the media presence surrounding Peretz as he voted. "Look at him, five months ago nobody took him seriously," said Sari Benisoon. "Now there is media here from Switzerland, China, the US, crowding around to hear his words. It is inspiring [that he is from] from Sderot, and we need inspiration here. It is time to see one of us in the prime minister's chair." Not everyone, however, was as optimistic about Labor's chances in the elections. "There is serious racism in this election that I think many people are feeling but not talking about," said Sagit Miyara, the head of the Labor Party branch in Netivot. "There are areas where I am hearing people say that they will not vote for [Peretz] because [of] his heritage, because Moroccans have bad tempers." Before his day began, and the media blanketed his doorstep, Peretz made an unpublicized visit to the graves of his parents in Sderot's cemetery. He also received special blessings Pincha Harmel, a Holocaust survivor, before he began a hectic day of visits to voting stations in the south. "When I'm feeling frustrated or going through a difficult time I come visit [Harmel] and hear what she has gone through in her life. Then I don't feel that my problems are so bad," Peretz said, while the 85-year-old woman said that all she wanted was to live long enough to see Peretz as prime minister. Afterwards, Peretz made a series of short visits to voting booths in Ashdod, Netivot, and Moshav Brosh, as well as in the northern Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Gan. MK Ophir Pas-Pines, who joined Peretz in Ashdod, said that he was optimistic that the Labor Party would get twice as many voters as it had in past years. "There are people here who never thought of voting Labor who will cast their ballots for us today," said Pas-Pines. "The future looks good for Labor." Peretz refused to answer questions about the day after elections, although he was repeatedly asked about coalition possibilities and ministerial appointments. "I'm not talking about coalition now or tomorrow. The voters deserve a day on which we only talk about ideological messages," said Peretz. While Peretz was received with homemade treats and buoyant crowds at most of his campaign stops his reception at Tel Aviv was more reserved. "We are voting Peretz because he likes workers," said one of three Filipino women wearing matching red jackets with glittered lettering reading "Amir Peretz for foreign workers." The women said they had convinced the dozen Filipino workers they knew with voting rights to cast their ballots for Peretz. MK Isaac Herzog, who toured the Ramat Gan neighborhood during the day, said that voters there were coming out in higher numbers than the rest of the country and were expressing interest in the Labor Party. At one voting station, Herzog was approached by a school bus driver and his wife, who told him that Herzog's six-year-old son, had convinced them to vote Labor. "The whole family is chipping in to bring the voters back to Labor," said a spokeswoman for Herzog, who joked that the the driver had been convinced on the drive to school. Other candidates in the Tel Aviv area worried, however, that the Pensioners Party was draining some of the vote from Peretz. "It's a trend, this hip thing for the youths to vote for the pensioners," said one Labor official. "We are beginning to worry, it may draw from the youth vote we have received in the past." Gal Zilberman, who has voted Labor for more than 15 years, said he would vote for the pensioners this time because he was "thinking about his future." Peretz retorted that he, as well, was thinking about the future, but in contrast to the Pensioners Party, he had presented a concrete plan on how to improve the future of Israel.