The campaign is almost underway, but the governing PD is in trouble with critics accusing Matteo Renzi of packing the field with his loyalists.
Italy is rushing headlong into elections in March that many are predicting will see humiliation for the governing centre-left, and an extraordinary political revival.
Despite some claims that the government has made some significant economic gains while in power, and despite the mixed results of populist Five-Star candidates in local government, the upstart party is polling strongly.
Prime ministerial candidate Luigi Di Maio said his candidates represented " a new era".
Definitely of another era and barred from office for fraud, former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is positioning himself as the known quantity and statesman faced with inexperience and division, and has allied his Forza Italia conservatives with the far-right and Northern League nationalists.
The centre-left Democratic Party is reeling, disunited and now angry that leader Matteo Renzi appears to have striong-armed loyalists into safe seats in the just-concluded selection process. Renzi's personality appears to be undermining the PD's tangible economic gains, and it is struggling to take credit for what it has got right, while remaining exposed to the anti-establishment heat generated by Five Star.
Berlusconi simply causes political observers to gape at the political immortality of a man condemned by the courts and trailing so much baggage he should be unelectable. He is appealing against his six-year ban from elected office, and has promised he has not bought the support of his eurosceptic allies at the cost of abandoning pro-EU policies.