The Man Who Could Mean Bye-bye for Bibi

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JERUSALEM: Ten days before the May 17 Israeli election, Yitzhak Mordechai is running at a lowly 7 percent in the polls. Yet he can still realize his Center party's goal of bringing down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu -- if he quits the race soon. Mordechai's remaining support is among ex-Likud members disenchanted with Netanyahu, and in what promises to be another tight election, that 7 percent looks to be enough to put current Labor party front-runner Ehud Barak over the top. "To win on the first ballot, a candidate needs a simple majority of the votes cast," says TIME Jerusalem bureau chief Lisa Beyer. "With Mordechai in the race, that was unlikely. But without him, it becomes possible, even likely, for Barak to win without going to a runoff vote."

The first ballot may be Barak's best chance. Netanyahu's right-wing voters are the more rabid believers, and are thus more likely to show up for a second turn at the polls than Barak's mostly secularist contingent. Netanyahu will also lose some first-ballot votes to right-wing challenger Benny Begin -- though if Mordechai does drop out to boost Barak, expect Begin to do the same for Netanyahu. Logic dictates that Mordechai make the move -- "His candidacy has come to be seen as something of a joke," says Beyer, "and he might be able to use an endorsement of Barak to get himself the defense minister post." Perhaps Mordechai is having an attack of conscience -- once, during a televised debate with Netanyahu, Mordechai promised not to withdraw. But he never said anything about getting the guy reelected.