By Pedro Widmar, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – Just weeks away from the beginning of what will undoubtedly prove to be months of fierce presidential campaigning, José Serra, current governor of Sao Paulo, remains in a strong position. Despite not having formalized his candidacy, Serra continues to come out on top in both simulated and spontaneous polls.
The Serra camp has faced some difficulties in recent weeks with attacks made by, and directed at, the PT (Worker’s Party). The debacle began after accusations by Sergio Guerra, president of the PSDB (Social Democrat Party), that Serra’s strongest opponent for the presidency Dilma Rousseff, was a liar.
“She has lied about her job, her resumé, and now about her political opponents,” said Guerra in a note to the press. He referred to Dilma’s resumé, where under education the current Chief of Staff has listed a Masters and Doctorate, which remain uncompleted.
Dilma’s PT party leaders replied by referring to Guerra as merely Serra’s henchman; “While he (Serra) claims to be devoted to his work and refuses to stoop to pre-election bickering, he uses his political henchman to make these kinds of accusations,” they noted.
However, the bickering has failed to hurt Serra’s numbers. In a spontaneous poll, where people are asked who they would vote for without being given names to choose from, Serra is technically tied with Rousseff for first place at 9.3 percent of the vote (Dilma scores 9.5 percent). Yet in the simulated poll, where the voters were given a list of the top four names, he leads with 33 percent of the vote.
When the options drop to just three names, leaving out Ciro Gomes of the PDT (Workers Democratic Party), Serra jumps ahead with nearly 41 percent of the vote. It is worth noting that in the spontaneous poll President Lula, who is not eligible for re-election, receives 18.7 percent of the vote.
Serra continues to keep his head down. When asked about the elections the Governor has refused to comment, replying that he is too busy with his current job governing Sao Paulo. Commentators and party men alike have suggested that Serra’s tactic will be to wait out the inevitable announcement of Rousseff’s candidacy and allow time for the fervor of the populist ticket to die down before planting his flag.
Regardless, the opposing candidate will face a tough battle in the coming months. The PSDB has been split over presidential support and with a weakened base, Serra will have to work hard to settle coalition negotiations.
In Rio de Janeiro for example, potential supporter Fernando Gabeira belongs to another likely presidential candidate Marina Silva’s PV party. This could create problems for Serra’s visibility in this part of the country due to his probable inability to campaign with Gabeira, who narrowly lost out in the Mayoral elections in 2008 to Eduardo Paes.
Despite all the obstacles the candidates will face building up to October, it is clear that Serra has a strong lead thus far. And if the candidate can rouse such strong support without even campaigning, it will be interesting to see how the early stages of the presidential race shape up when he does officially launch his bid before the deadline in June.
Correction: February 4, 2010
This article was first published on February 2nd with the wrong information about the deadline for announcing candidacy, which is in June.