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Now that Kadima finally has a presidential candidate in Shimon Peres, after months of deliberation, Likud candidate Reuven Rivlin and his supporters are not the only ones to be heard expounding on the race.

"Ruby is very far from the 61," said a senior Kadima official, referring to Rivlin's chances of winning a majority of votes in the Knesset. "Altogether, in the current situation the battle is fairly balanced, although I think that if [Labor candidate] Colette Avital weren't in the story, the picture would be more clearly in Peres' favor."

The Rivlin camp thinks that Kadima is full of defectors who won't vote for their party's candidate, and the Peres camp thinks the same about the Labor Party. As the official Labor candidate, Avital is thought to be competing for many of the same votes as Peres, a veteran Laborite who switched his allegiance to newcomer Kadima in the last general elections.

Labor has 19 MKs, of whom Kadima officials think six or seven will vote for Peres and one or two will choose Rivlin. Avital's supporters, however, say they're convinced that no more than three Labor MKs will vote for another candidate.

The problem with trying to predict the results of an election like this is that when so many people are expected to vote against their parties' candidates, there's no way to tell how the election will go.

Those in the know agree on one thing, however: Shas holds the key to victory. Shas MKs are widely seen as doing exactly what the party's spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, tells them to do. But members of all the candidates' camps are convinced that even if Yosef calls on his followers to support Peres, at least some of the 12 Shas MKs will do otherwise; Shas is, after all, politically right-wing.

The difference in the assessments is that while the Peres camp expects two MKs to go against the grain if Yosef backs Peres, the Rivlin camp expects up to five defectors.

One of Peres' major mistakes in the presidential race against president Moshe Katsav - now on a leave of absence - is that he met only with prominent MKs as part of his campaign, not with everyone.

This time, Kadima officials said, Peres will meet with all MKs, with the possible exception of members of Likud and National Union. Kadima officials were quick to explain that they expect some defector MKs in those parties as well, though it's not worth it for them to be seen with Peres.