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Beauty queen adds politics to her palette

When cosmetics magnate Pnina Rosenblum mused she might run for Knesset someday, she was hardly serious at first - or taken seriously.

The beauty queen who grew up in an immigrant shack in this drab Tel Aviv suburb was known for her own line of pantyhose, not politics.

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But letters of encouragement from thousands of Israelis began pouring in, she says, and a poll in a leading women's magazine found that 43 percent of respondents considered her the most successful woman in Israel.

And so in the pink building that houses her company headquarters - where the decor includes the pink makeup counters and stocking dispensers designed for department stores, as well as glam shots of herself - Ms. Rosenblum decided to launch her new party to run for Knesset, Israel's parliament.

She called it - what else? - the Pnina Rosenblum Party.

She says she will work on social and economic issues, bolstered by the votes of thousands who respect her up-by-the-bootstraps, rags-to-riches story. Raised in poverty by her Iraqi immigrant mother, she relied on her beauty to build her modeling career and her wits to make an $8-million-a-year cosmetics company.

"I had to fight hard for everything, because I was treated as blond and beautiful and that's all," Rosenblum says in an interview at her office, where she keeps photos of her recent visit to the slum where she grew up, as well as a picture of her family, now in their four-floor villa in the same town.

"When I go out to talk to the people, they love me because they see my success hasn't changed me.... I don't know where I got this kind of confidence. It's unbelievable," she says as she runs her fingers through her platinum-blond hair.

Her absence of strong ideology and fuzzy answers on where she stands on the peace process with the Palestinians won't necessarily deter voters. Polls have shown that her party will win four Knesset seats, and at a recent mock school election - considered one barometer of political sentiment - her party won eight of 120 seats.

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Even by the more conservative estimate, she could well end up a Cabinet minister in the next government, since the Third Way Party's four-seat victory in 1996 earned its leader a place in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Cabinet.

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