WASHINGTON, May 20 (JTA) — So confident was James Carville of Ehud Barak’s victory in Israel’s elections that the American political consultant flew home to his Virginia farm three days before Israelis cast their ballots. The only thing that surprised Carville and his partners, Stanley Greenberg and Robert Shrum — who have been credited with engineering Barak’s landslide win over Benjamin Netanyahu in the race for prime minister — was the margin of victory. “We need to remind ourselves that we were supposed to lose this election,” Greenberg, President Clinton’s former pollster, said at a news conference here on Thursday. The political strategists brought American-style politicking to Israel, reshaped Barak’s image, hammered home a simple message — “It’s about change, stupid” — and quickly gained celebrity status. Their winning formula, which transformed Barak from an underdog to prime minister-elect with an overwhelming victory, included stressing not only security but the economy, and avoiding personal attack ads on Netanyahu. “By addressing the security issue effectively, by opening up the possibility of socioeconomic change and taking a very clear position on the role of civic equality, we freed people to vote for peace,” Greenberg said. But for all their celebrity, the consultants credited Barak for the success of the campaign. “Ehud Barak is one of the most disciplined, coolest, calmest people I’ve ever known,” said Shrum, who was in charge of television advertising. “He literally had more plans than there were problems, he had more backups in terms of the ideas he had about how he could deal with a situation than ever could have occurred.” The way Barak handled the campaign, he added, bodes well for his success as prime minister. Although the three strategists are now recognizable to many Israelis for their role in the campaign, they may not have been the only team of American political consultants working to get Barak elected. CNN reported this week that a second tier of consultants, including Doug Schoen, who has done polling work for Clinton, and political strategist Zev Furst, served as unofficial advisers to Barak, supplying him with polls to reassure him that the ones he was getting from Greenberg were accurate. Shrum said he knew nothing about a second polling team for Barak and assumed Schoen was doing work for the Center Party, headed by Yitzhak Mordechai, who pulled out of the race for prime minister at the last minute. Netanyahu also used his own American consultant, Arthur Finkelstein, who had helped him eke out a narrow victory in Israel’s last election. Carville and Greenberg, former members of Clinton’s famed 1992 “war room,” meanwhile, denied they were sent to aid Barak’s campaign at Clinton’s behest. Carville said Clinton only learned of his involvement in the campaign after Netanyahu told him about it. For Carville, campaigning in Israel proved somewhat refreshing. He said he was struck by the intensity with which people followed the race, which he said stands in contrast to the relatively short attention span of the American electorate. “We’re never going to have that kind of interest here — maybe if we’d been at war with Canada and Mexico for the last 25 years,” he said. Ultimately, however, Carville said that certain political truisms held firm. “If you think about it, in the end it was like many elections in America,” he quipped. “Who won came down to who got that all-important Jewish vote.”
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