By Tom Cushing
The Tuesday SweepstakesUploaded: Mar 15, 2015
March 17th is a Big Day for voters and temporary Irishmen ? they will have to decide whether they, Joan Buchanan and/or Mr. Netanyahu will get another round. The outcome is only certain in one of the three decisions: green beer will prevail. The other two races appear uncertain, and each election has unusual dynamics.
In our local State Senate race, the GOP candidate has bowed-out, but remains on the ballot. The other three aspirants, Susan Bonilla, Ms. Buchanan and Steve Glazer, are Democrats experienced in the ways of Sacramento. This election thus looks a lot like the kind of Top Two Primary voted into existence by Prop 14, in 2010. It's effectively all one Party, and if no one emerges with a majority, a two-person run-off will be required (I'm not sure my mailbox could stand that strain ? it's been weakened by a deluge of slick paper from these candidates, especially Mr. Glazer and PAC partisans who favor him).
In situations like this race, the apparent advantage goes to the candidate who most appeals to voters of the opposite Party. Here, that's Mr. Glazer, considered the most generally conservative of the three. The thinking goes that he will suck-up the GOP votes as their best-among-bad choices, with Buchanan and Bonilla dividing the Democratic take.
That was part of the appeal of the Top Two approach ? it appeared likely to favor more moderate candidates. That particular conventional wisdom has not held sway in the early results of such races across the state, however. The apparent reasons are two: first, voters with no horse in the race stay home, and second, only truly partisan voters of the majority Party turn-out to vote. They tend to be the true believers ? here, the liberal Dems. And here, too, the GOP non-candidate will still appear on the ballot, which may confuse some low-info voters. She's not likely to be shut-out (especially after campaign shenanigans have tried to resurrect her persona ? sponsored rumors of her candidacy are exaggerated, but were quite purposefully spread).
Recall that we're dealing here with very low voter participation: in the much broader general election last November, the nationwide turn-out was a dismal 33% of registered voters. So, get-out-the-vote efforts may tell the tale. There are other themes ? labor/management kerfufflage being an important one, so I am glad I don't have to call it. If I did, I'd say Buchanan-Glazer in a run-off, but without much conviction. Heaven help my mailbox.
Meanwhile, the Israeli elections appear to be in free-for-all. It's a fascinating democratic process, with at least twelve serious political Parties, as opposed to the USA's essentially binary system. The Parties' goal is to win enough votes, usually the most of any Party, such that their leadership has an opportunity to cobble together a coalition representing > 60 of the 120 votes in the ruling Knesset. If s/he fails, another large Party will generally get the opportunity -- or a rotating leadership between major Party leaders may ensue, in a so-called national unity government.
These elections were called in December, less than halfway through the normal four-year term. Infighting among cabinet members in the Likud/Netanyahu leadership caused the prior Knesset to dissolve itself, unanimously.
Currently, the front-runners are right-wing Likud and the center-left Zionist Union, itself a coalition led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni. Livni is the former Justice Minister, whose sacking precipitated the Knesset dissolution. She and Herzog have agreed to rotate the Prime Minister position between them, should they prevail.
According to a consolidation of recent polling, the Parties stand as follows (in terms of likely Knesset seats):
Zionist Union (24)
Yesh Alid (13)
Habayit Hayehudi (13)
Yisrael Beiteinu (6)
United Torah (6)
Aleh Yarok (0)
Despite his recent star turn in Washington, voter regard for Mr. Netanyahu has slipped in recent predictions. That trend seems to derive from several sources: first, the fact that security issues do not dominate the discussion (despite the pendency of a possible nuclear avoidance agreement with Iran) -- rather, cost-of-living and other, more prosaic domestic issues are major electoral concerns. Likud is regarded as strongest in more troubled times.
Second, significant sentiment blames the PM for a deterioration of the US-Israeli alliance. Per a NYT summary:
"'You and you alone turned the United States from an ally into an enemy,' Shabtai Shavit, a former chief of the Mossad spy agency, said in a blistering statement? Another retired Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, has also come out of the shadows on a mission to unseat Mr. Netanyahu. At an opposition rally attended by tens of thousands of people in Tel Aviv last Saturday night, Mr. Dagan, who is known to be unwell, captivated the audience by delivering a keynote speech with tears in his eyes.
'Israel is surrounded by enemies,' he told the crowd. 'Enemies do not scare me; I worry about our leadership.'"
On the other hand, Mr. Herzog is not generally perceived as a dynamic leader, and Likud may be better able to cooper-up a restive coalition. Indeed, Haaretz, a paper generally friendly to the center-left, offered several reasons why Mr. Netanyahu would likely retain his PM post. Those included arithmetic factors in the minority Party sweepstakes, and the very absence of a galvanizing domestic issue, around which the opposition might rally. Netanyahu is also, of course, the more settled commodity ? you know what you're getting with him, vs. the Herzog/Livni duo.
I'm guessing that Mr. Netanyahu will prevail, eventually, in a contentious post-election jockeying for the crucial 61st vote. For everybody's sake, especially Israel's in my view, I'd be happy to be wrong.
Regardless, it'll be another horse race. I think I will have that beer.