Benjamin Netanyahu is this election's big loser, even if he manages to restore his position and become prime minister.
At the start of the election campaign four months ago, his victory appeared certain. All the polls and the analysts predicted that Bibi would make a big comeback, and that Likud would crush Kadima and re-establish itself as the big, powerful ruling party.
Netanyahu's behavior only bolstered this image: He adorned the party's Knesset list with stars, some new and some not, he showed discipline during the campaign and he made nearly no mistakes. The elections looked like they were in his bag.
The moment the polls showed him at the top, Netanyahu tried to preserve his lead with proper, stately behavior while ignoring his rivals. But it did not work. Bibi is at his best when he is fighting - against the Oslo accords, against the elites, against the big unions, against Ariel Sharon.
But this is not what brought Bibi down. It was the war in the Gaza Strip. The Kadima government gambled that going to war would improve its standing with voters, and the move worked. The war was perceived as a victory over Hamas, and as a salve to heal the trauma of the Second Lebanon War. The national agenda shifted overnight, from corruption and recession to security and statesmanship, and Netanyahu was not ready.
Avigdor Lieberman stole Netanyahu's security agenda in his campaign against Israeli Arabs, and Livni managed to convince the public that she will handle Barack Obama better than Netanyahu. Livni forced Netanyahu to treat her as an equal, despite his negative ads claiming the job is "too big for her." From that point, he lost the advantage of experience. Livni proved to be an expert campaigner who saved enough energy for the final and decisive round.
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