Naftali Bennett traveled throughout the country on Election Day looking worried, and sure enough, early exit polls put his Habayit Hayehudi party at eight or nine seats, below the 11 or 12 seats in the last opinion polls and the 12 seats captured in the January 2013 election.
Bennett started his day at a polling station near his Ra’anana home and from there traveled to the south and religious-Zionist strongholds in Jerusalem, Givat Shmuel and Petah Tikva. The goal was to produce a double-digit showing.
On Election Day, the optimistic party activists were predicting 12 seats, the pessimistic ones eight.
For a party that started the campaign in what looked like an optimal position, the day ended in disappointment. From the start Habayit Hayehudi had driven home the message that the party did not fear another election.
When the election was declared, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu led in the polls, Labor's Isaac Herzog led a weak opposition party, and Bennett, after the Gaza war over the summer, was looking like the right’s new leader.
In public appearances he was confident and unapologetic. Polls were giving his party as many as 18 seats and an average of 15.
But then Eli Yishai split off from Shas to found the Yahad Ha'am Itanu party, drawing from Habayit Hayehudi former Knesset deputy speaker Yoni Chetboun. Then came the failed attempt to put former soccer star Eli Ohana on the ticket and Netanyahu’s desperation campaign of the past few days.
Some Habayit Hayehudi voters apparently drifted back to Likud.
On Election Day two years ago, the atmosphere was euphoric. This time around it was gloomy.
Two years ago dozens of foreign press photographers waited near the polling station in Ra’anana; some photographers needed a bench to stand on. This time no one from abroad was waiting.
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