In response to its recent slide in the polls, Habayit Hayehudi is making drastic changes to its election campaign. Instead of focusing on outreach to new voters, it’s now trying to shore up its core vote.
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The decline dates from party leader Naftali Bennett’s ill-fated efforts last month to add soccer star Eli Ohana to Habayit Hayehudi’s slate. Until then, over the course of 83 polls, the party never fell below 15 seats, and sometimes rose as high as 19. But its poll numbers have fallen over the last two weeks, and last Friday, a Channel 1 television poll showed it winning only 11 seats – one less than it had in the most recent Knesset.
Bennett’s original goal was to look to steal four or five seats from Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu. To do so, he was willing to risk losing one or two seats-worth of his party’s traditional voters – the most religiously stringent of them – to Eli Yishai’s new Yahad party.
The problem is that while he has indeed lost voters to Yahad, the voters he hoped to gain from Likud haven’t materialized.
So now, instead of trying to attract new voters, Bennett has revamped his campaign to focus on his party’s base. Over the past week, he has removed the rest of Habayit Hayehudi’s ticket from the deep freeze where he had placed it and moved it to the forefront of the campaign. Each of the first 16 people on the slate (except the seriously ill Uri Orbach) has made six-second video clips presenting their achievements. The first two clips to air were those of Bezalel Smotrich and Orit Strock – two of the party’s most extreme members, whom Bennett had previously sought to hide.
Bennett has also shelved his attack ads on Zionist Camp and its leader, Isaac Herzog; he no longer has money and time to waste on that. In any case, any votes Herzog lost would go to Likud, not Habayit Hayehudi.
Instead, the party’s campaign will now focus on its achievements, including some of the laws it passed in the last Knesset.
If this doesn’t work, Bennett has one last card to play: attacking Likud leader and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
But Bennett fears that if he does so, Netanyahu will exclude Habayit Hayehudi if he forms the next coalition government and will try instead to form a unity government with Herzog. In short, Bennett would have to decide whether 15 or 16 seats on paper are worth languishing in the opposition for.
Meanwhile, the weekend polls showed that Likud and Zionist Camp are still running neck and neck: Yedioth Ahronoth’s poll put Zionist Camp ahead by 25 seats to 24, while Maariv’s poll gave the edge to Likud by a larger margin, 26 to 22.
Both polls showed the Arabs’ Joint List with 12 seats and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid with 11. Habayit Hayehudi got 12 seats from Yedioth, 13 from Maariv. The Yedioth poll gave United Torah Judaism, Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu and Shas seven seats apiece, while Maariv gave them eight, seven and six, respectively.