The useful vote campaign launched by the PT to guarantee the election of former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in the first round is the strategy adopted by the PT in the final stretch of his campaign. Its objective is to volatilize the candidacy of former Ceará governor Ciro Gomes (PDT) and, with that, attract the voters that he lacks to have more than 50% plus one of the votes on October 2nd. The expectation of power that Lula’s favoritism offers, contrary to what happens with other opposition candidates, is a factor in attracting support from personalities, intellectuals and politicians from the so-called democratic center, who are adhering to the PT’s campaign. Lula is closer to a victory in the first round.
In Ciro’s case, the useful vote is already imploding the PDT. The aggressive tone of the campaign, however, provoked a strong reaction from Ciro Gomes, who started to treat Lula as his main opponent in recent weeks, as his survival as a national political leader is threatened by the progressive emptying of his candidacy. In practice, this reaction by Ciro reinforces the narrative adopted by Bolsonaro to increase Lula’s rejection rate, focused mainly on the “mensalão” and Petrobras scandals, and on the convictions in the first and second instances in the Operation Lava-Jato processes, although these sentences were overturned by the Federal Supreme Court (STF).
This confrontation in the opposition camp can leave many sequels. The risk of the strategy is that the offensive does not reach its objective and, however, reduces the distance between Lula and former president Jair Bolsonaro in the first round vote. This would also depend on the emptying of the candidacy of Simone Tebet (MDB), target of a second front of the useful vote campaign, operated by ex-governor Geraldo Alckmin, Lula’s deputy, together with the historic leaders of the PSDB. Former President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, pressured by his closest friends and allies who joined Lula this week, still resists declaring support for the PT. Yesterday, he distributed a note in which he asked for a vote for candidates opposing Bolsonaro, in defense of democracy, without adhering to the useful vote, but he did not mention Simone, a candidate who is officially affiliated with the PSDB and Citizenship.
With less virulence than Bolsonaro, Simone Tebet has also been reacting to the useful vote campaign. In cards distributed on social networks, she places herself as the only candidate in a position to defeat Lula in the second round. It is a way to stop the emptying of his candidacy through a useful vote with a reversed sign, which would lead his more conservative voters to give up his name and drift by gravity to Bolsonaro, since they are anti-PT. Therein lies the danger of the useful vote campaign reducing the distance between Lula and Bolsonaro, without guaranteeing a victory in the first round, reinforcing electoral polarization and also political radicalization in the second round. The shorter the distance from Lula to Bolsonaro, the greater the predictable stress from an institutional point of view.
In a radicalized campaign, in which candidates treat each other as adversaries to be liquidated, erring as the “main enemy” can be fatal. While Bolsonaro focuses fire on Lula, the opposition begins to fight very aggressively in the campaign. The normal thing would be for Ciro Gomes to be fighting to take the place of Bolsonaro, the second place, and not escalate the confrontation with Lula. The same thing happens with the PT members who are intensifying their attacks on the PDT candidate and, now, against Simone Tebet, who voted for Bolsonaro in the second round of 2018, but has been campaigning firmly against him in these elections. Side effects could frustrate Lula’s effort to win the election in the first round in this final stretch and complicate his life a lot in the second round.
Bolsonaro has made a lot of mistakes in the campaign so far, but he started to listen more to his marketer, Duda Lima, responsible for the television programs, during the recordings, according to his press office, regarding yesterday’s column, when I said the opposite. The critical path for Bolsonaro to reach the second round is to reduce Lula’s lead among lower-income voters and among women, which still seems impossible. For this, yesterday, the government announced that it will buy food produced by small farmers and distribute it among the poorest, in an attempt to neutralize the main factor that wears Bolsonaro down with voters who receive up to 2 minimum wages: the price of foods.
In the final stretch of the campaign, the states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro will be decisive for Bolsonaro to guarantee the second round. In Rio de Janeiro, the reelection of governor Cláudio Castro (PL) in the first round is still on the roof, but the distance from Marcelo Freixo (PSB), favors Bolsonaro and complicates Lula. In São Paulo, where PT Fernando Haddad is the favorite, the stagnation of the candidacy of Tarcísio de Freitas (Republicans) and the growth of Rodrigo Garcia (PSDB) worry Bolsonaro, who intends to intensify his campaign in the state. In Minas, the attacks by governor Romeu Zema (Novo) on former PT governor Fernando Pimentel lit a red alert in Lula’s campaign, which supports former Belo Horizonte mayor Alexandre Kalil (PSD). Zema should win in the first round, but no one knows what he will do after being elected, if there is a second round between Lula and Bolsonaro.