How Berlusconi May Upend the Italian Elections

My piece on Berlusconi’s rapid rise in the polls has just been published by Time.

It was supposed to be an easy victory for the Italian center-left candidate, Pier Luigi Bersani. After all, his opponents include Silvio Berlusconi, the former Prime Minister facing trial for underage prostitution; Mario Monti, the technocratic Premier many Italians blame for a year of harsh austerity; and — vacuuming up the protest vote — Beppe Grillo, a bombastic comedian who refuses to campaign on television.

Instead, as Italians head to the polls on Feb. 24 and 25, the result is anything but certain. Bersani has spent much of the past two months watching Berlusconi close the gap between them. Since the beginning of the election season, the former Prime Minister has been ever present on Italian television, both on the channels he owns and those of his competitors. In January, he appeared on a program hosted by two of his most ferocious critics, making a show of walking into the lion’s den, and, in front of a record audience, wiping the floor with them (almost literally; at one point, he used a handkerchief to dust off a chair where one of his opponents had been sitting).

Read the rest.