Now, everything has changed. Putin's invasion of Ukraine later that same month has upended the race, recasting its protagonists and rewriting their pitches. It has left Orban, widely regarded as the EU's most pro-Kremlin leader, walking a political tightrope. And it has shone a spotlight on a years-long entanglement between him and the Russian President, two strongmen whose political journeys bear some notable similarities.
"If you want to analyze the election campaign, you have to draw a line on February 24," said Andrea Virág, director of strategy at the Republikon Institute think tank in Budapest, Hungary's capital. "Since the war started, it's completely different."