Yair Lapid looks more like the TV anchorman he used to be than the Israeli parliament member he’s become. But he displayed the savvy skills of a political veteran, leading his new centrist political party, Yesh Atid, to a surprisingly strong showing in last month’s parliamentary elections and positioning himself as a key power broker alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Lapid’s late surge in the polls shocked the political pundits, but his supporters say it was a culmination of long hours spent cultivating support at the grassroots level. “He was focused on becoming a champion of the middle class,” Lapid’s pollster, Mark Mellman, said on The Daily Rundown. He says Lapid spent months meeting face-to-face with thousands of Israelis to get a handle on their primary concerns.
“There are a lot of people concerned about the cost of living, the cost of housing, the cost of electricity…” Mellman said. “In this election, security issues weren’t the central topic of discussion, they weren’t the central focus of voters.”
By focusing on the economy, Lapid grabbed voters’ attention. Then he closed the deal by using American-style political tactics, including an online push that supercharged his campaign in its final week and a half. Mellman told Chuck Todd, “The reality is the campaign finance limits in Israel are very strict for a new party —you can hardly spend any money. We only got seven minutes of TV time—you can’t buy TV time, the government gives you TV time…We were really forced to use other media outlets..”
Now that he’s been elected, Lapid is waiting to see how Prime Minister Netanyahu forms his government before deciding what kind of role he will play. “His goal is to make a difference for the public,” Mellman says. “You do that from the inside if you can.”