INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Brazilian Opposition Says Alckmin Campaign Is On the Rise

Published: Fri 15 Sep 2006 06:06 PM
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SUBJECT: BRAZILIAN OPPOSITION SAYS ALCKMIN CAMPAIGN IS ON THE RISE
1. (SBU) Summary. Opposition presidential candidate Geraldo Alckmin's national campaign manager said the campaign's strategy of pressing hard for more votes in Bahia while letting Lula take the rest of the northeast still has a chance of forcing a second round and then defeating president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on October 29. Senator Sergio Guerra of Pernambuco (PSDB - Party of the Brazilian Social Democracy) says the Alckmin campaign has given up on the northeast except for Bahia, and that their own polling shows Alckmin is on the rise. Alckmin and Lula are nearly tied in a second round face-off, according to their polling. Polling done by independent Brazilian organizations does not show Alckmin gaining, and predict Lula would win a second round by a comfortable margin. This cable was prepared by Embassy Poloff and coordinated with AmConsul Recife.) End summary.
2. (SBU) Geraldo Alckmin's national campaign manager said Alckmin still has a chance of forcing a second round in October 1 voting and then defeating president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on October 29. Senator Sergio Guerra of Pernambuco (PSDB) met with Recife Principal Officer and visiting Embassy Poloff at his office in Recife on September 11 and said the Alckmin campaign has given up on the northeast, except Bahia state. Guerra said he is not an optimist but a realist, and while recognizing that Alckmin faces a tall order to win votes in a short time frame, he said the tide is turning. The campaign's own polling on September 8-9 showed Alckmin on the rise, and he and Lula are nearly tied in a second round face-off, with Alckmin at 44 percent and Lula at 45. The polling also had the two candidates at 31 for Alckmin and 43 for Lula in the first round, which could be enough to force a second round, depending on the number of blank or spoiled ballots. Guerra also said only 30 percent of Lula's votes are firm, the others are soft, and many could be brought into the Alckmin camp.
3. (U) Note: In contrast to Guerra's assertions, polling by independent Brazilian organizations does not show Alckmin gaining, and predicts Lula would win a second round by a comfortable margin. The latest available polling, conducted on September 11-12 by Datafolha, showed Alckmin had gained one point and stood at 28 percent, while Lula had lost one point and stood at 50 percent. One point is well within the margin of error. End note.
4. (SBU) Guerra went on to say that the campaign is doing well in critical southern states such as Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais, but needs to do better in Bahia, Rio de Janeiro and the center west region in order to win. He said Bahia is the state where Alckmin faces the biggest challenge, and the PSDB will make a huge effort there. On September 11, Alckmin participated in a large rally in Salvador with over 300 Bahia mayors, and top Bahia political figures such as Senator Antonio Carlos Magalhaes (PFL - Party of the Liberal Front) and Governor Paulo Souto (PFL). The rally was billed as "The Turning Point" for Alckmin's campaign.
5. (SBU) Guerra said that many voters do not believe Lula is corrupt, and corruption is not an issue that will win Alckmin votes. Instead, Alckmin's chief challenge is to get voters to recognize him. The campaign's research shows voters believe Alckmin offers better programs than Lula, he said. (Comment: This begs the question of why the Alckmin campaign has become so negative in the last weeks, emphasizing corruption in the Lula government, and a differing perspective among other PSDB national leaders, per reftel. Guerra did not explain the apparent contradiction. End comment.) Guerra said their strategy is working: Lula has just started attacking Alckmin with negative advertising, showing he is feeling the heat.
6. (SBU) Guerra predicted that Lula, if re-elected, will have a hard time governing because he does not know how to put together a government, and the ministries will be used as platforms for getting resources for the parties' next campaigns. He also said that TV Globo has been actively supporting Lula because of their interests in the selection of a digital television system (decided earlier this year in favor of the Japanese system) and restructuring of the network's debt.
7. (SBU) Guerra dismissed the widespread perception that Lula has distanced himself from his party, and said the proof was in Lula's defense of Humberto Costa at a rally in Caruaru, Pernambuco, in early September. Costa, a PT (Workers Party) candidate for governor of Pernambuco, has been indicted by the Federal Police for corruption in the Bloodsuckers scandal involving rigged ambulance sales with kickbacks to many members of congress.
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8. (SBU) Guerra also said he believes that, after the October 1 elections, when a new threshold law will result in the elimination of many smaller parties, only about eight or nine parties will survive. He predicted the PT will lose about ten percent of its 92 congressional seats.
9. (SBU) Comment: Guerra has no illusions about how difficult the task will be to put Geraldo Alckmin in the Brazilian presidency, even though polling numbers he cited may be evidence of some wishful thinking on his part. His assertion that voters will go for Alckmin when they learn more about him contradicts what we have been hearing in Recife and Salvador from knowledgeable observers who believe voter loyalty to Lula -- at least in the northeast -- comes from his public assistance programs, personal appeal and a feeling that he truly represents the masses. But voter loyalty in the northeast is now relevant for the Alckmin campaign only in Bahia, because it has written off the rest of the northeast as Lula territory.
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