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Cablegate: Brzail's Minas Gerais: Pt Incumbent Could

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 RIO DE JANEIRO 001105

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

STATE FOR WHA/BSC, WHA/PDA-LGOULD
NSC FOR MIKE DEMPSEY

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PINR SOCI BR
SUBJECT: BRZAIL'S MINAS GERAIS: PT INCUMBENT COULD
WIN A TIGHT RACE IN BRAZIL'S THIRD CITY

Refs: (A) Rio de Janeiro 00190 (B) Rio de Janeiro

00723 (C) Brasilia 01392

1. (U) SUMMARY: The mayoral race in the capital
city of Minas Gerais state, Belo Horizonte, one of
Brazil's largest cities in one of the largest
states, is close, according to the most recent poll:
38 percent for ex-soccer idol and State Deputy Joao
Leite (Brazilian Socialist Party/PSB) and 31 percent
for current mayor Fernando Pimentel (Worker's
Party/PT). On August 2-3, Poloff visited Belo
Horizonte to take the pulse in the mayoral election
in this important economic capital. We spoke with
both leading candidates, and others with insights in
the city. Despite the fact that Leite has a lead in
the polls, many political pundits predict that
Pimentel will successfully hold his seat. The
CNT/Sensus poll released August 11 show both
President Lula's and PT Sao Paulo mayoral candidate
Suplicy's approvals have ticked up, and this along
with the improvement in the economy, will help
Pimentel as well. Nonetheless, the PT is pulling
out all the stops for Pimentel's campaign to get the
polls back to the June level of 41% or higher for a
clear win of over 50 percent. The current dip in
Pimentel's popularity could mean, however, that the
race will be decided by evangelicals who support
Joao Leite. Right now, it is too close to call.
End Summary.

THE POLLS
---------

2. (U) Recent polling by Instituto EMData shows 38
percent support for ex-soccer idol and Minas Gerais
State Deputy Joao Leite (PSB) and 31 percent for
current Belo Mayor Fernando Pimentel (PT), with a
margin of error of 5 points. Election day is
October 3, and the race is very much in play, as
July polls showed the two candidates even, but
earlier numbers showed Pimentel with a substantial
lead. The other five candidates together do not
reach double digits. Despite Leite's current lead,
political pundits in Belo Horizonte predict the
Worker's Party candidate for re-election will be the
winner, especially with more PT big shots weighing
in, such as President Lula. In addition, Pimentel
has just hired the public relations firm of Duda
Mendonca, who helped elect President Lula in 2002.
It is possible, however, that these political nabobs
have underestimated the number of evangelical voters
who support Leite, who may help him clinch the
election. (Twenty-five percent of the voters are
evangelicals and Leite has 70 percent of their
votes.) Leite polls particularly well among
evangelical and working-class voters, while Pimentel
is the favorite of the more educated and middle
classes. If no candidate gets more than 50 percent
of the vote, the top two vote-getters go to a second
round on October 31.

HURDLES FOR PIMENTEL
--------------------

3. (SBU) Pimentel has some hurdles to get over.
Despite being the incumbent, he is surprisingly
unknown to the voters. He was elected Vice Mayor in
2000, but shortly after, the Mayor suffered a
stroke. Pimentel has been Acting Mayor for three
years, is reportedly an able administrator and "not
as radical as some PT members." In anticipation
that Mayor Castro would recover, he was reportedly
modest and did not advertise the fact that he was
mayor, much to his detriment now that he is a
candidate.

CAMPAGN HEATS UP
---------------

4. (SBU) Verbal attacks between the front runners
have heated up the campaign in recent weeks. The PT
has been attempting to gain more name recognition
for Pimentel. At the end of July, Vice President of
the Republic Jose Alencar Gomes da Silva (Liberal
Party/PL) arrived in Belo Horizonte, actively
participating in Pimentel's campaign for re-
election, as he is for other PT/PL candidates in 70
cities in the state. (Alencar's name has been
bandied about as a possible candidate for the
governorship in 2006.) Seven federal ministers
representing one or the other of the federal
coalition of parties and one federal deputy, in
addition to Minister of the Casa Civil, Jose Dirceu,
have also gone to Belo to reinforce their support
for the PT candidate, much to the outspoken
displeasure of Leite. Leite accused Pimentel of
using the federal machine to bolster his campaign;
Pimentel riposted that Leite was "impolite," and
claimed any monies used for any campaigning were
from the party war chest and not public funds.
President Lula was in Belo on August 6, conferring
with Pimentel and announcing tax cuts; Pimentel
claimed the President's announcement of tax cuts had
nothing to do with partisan politics and everything
to do with the importance of Belo Horizonte, but
Leite criticized the President for "lending himself"
to Pimentel's campaign: "It's lamentable," Leite
said. Pimentel does emphasize his relationship with
the federal government and President Lula and says
that as a result, with his election, federal funds
will continue to come pouring into Belo Horizonte.

THE HEFT OF INCUMBENCY DISADVANTAGES LEITE
------------------------------------------

5. (SBU) Although Joao Leite is currently ahead in
the polls, he has reason to be concerned about
maintaining that lead. Recent polls indicate that
the approval ratings of President Lula and state
governor Aecio Neves are on the rise and may improve
Pimentel's chances by association: 71 percent of
Belo Horizonte voters approve of the governor, a
rise of 4 points over two months ago and President
Lula has risen from 47 percent to 52 percent in the
same time frame, according to the EMData poll.
Their popularity may be the most influential element
in a Pimentel win. Although Leite was given support
by the ever-popular Neves (Brazilian Social
Democratic Party/PSDB) at the end of June, that
support has been luke-warm and ambiguous. Neves,
for the most part, has remained outside the mayoral
campaign, although he has made occasional
sympathetic comments about Pimentel and other
candidates for mayor and has not praised the
candidate his party supports in coalition with the
PSB, Leite. Neves' distance from the municipal
elections is read by Neves' supporters as his
adherence to the principle of loyalty to the PSDB
decision to support Leite rather than actual support
for the candidate - a supposition that Leite is
having a hard time overcoming, affecting his ability
to raise funds.

6. (SBU) Leite has no way to counter the Pimentel
claim that federal funds will pour into the city as
soon as he is elected. Nor can he compete with the
tremendous weight that comes with incumbency: where
Leite's campaign headquarters is a loaned, spare
building in downtown Belo, the governor has the
formidable city hall as his electoral backdrop and a
cast of thousands of public employees at his beck
and call. Pimentel can point to projects the city
government has funded, such as the distribution of
thousands of school books and backpacks, or the
building of new roads that leave Leite at a distinct
disadvantage. Despite the electoral hew and cry,
however, Pimentel and Leite are little different in
their campaign platforms: improving health care,
building more and better schools, developing
infrastructure, controlling drug/arms trafficking,
and job creation. Both Pimentel and Leite are
focusing on the 28,642 new voters under the age of
18, an increase of 115 percent in relation to 2002
of the number of 16 and 17-year olds. Currently,
both principal candidates are filming electoral
spots for the opening of the TV/radio programs which
start August 18 and run through September 30.

7. (SBU) Among the many people with whom Poloff
discussed the mayoral campaign, Marcos Coimbras of
the prominent Vox Populi polling company provided
the most insight into the election. He discussed
the astonishing transformation of President Lula in
the last year, a man who is getting bigger and
better than when he began. Coimbras said the
Brazilian people are fascinated by the President as
a statesman, dealing both with national and
international issues as a political leader rather
than a party leader, a man capable of governing, a
"superLula." Coimbras admitted that Lula's
popularity fell when the Waldomiro scandal broke
this past spring, but said that the initial euphoria
of Lula's election and the high expectations that
accompanied his campaign promises were impossible to
sustain. The Brazilian people now have more
realistic expectations of what a government can
accomplish in a short period of time. The Worker's
Party, Coimbras said, has not gotten off so easily;
he said the party is in disarray, with much in-
fighting and the people are aware of it. Lula's
increasing popularity will have a distinctly
positive effect on Pimentel's campaign, according to
Coimbras.

8. (SBU) Coimbras predicted, as did many other
people in the capital, that Pimentel would win the
mayoralty in a close race. He declared Pimentel a
decent administrator who indeed had access to
federal funds for building roads, etc. He
criticized Pimentel for not having the political
savvy to come forward aggressively once he took over
as mayor. Coimbras believes Pimentel has been able
to maintain an admirable image of PT accomplishments
for the last year and a half, especially in
infrastructure development.

9. (SBU) Coimbras indicated that Leite's reputation
has suffered because he talks too much about
prisoner rights rather than having sympathy for
victims of crime and violence in his press
conferences. Although Leite defended himself as a
strong supporter of the police in their battle
against crime (his father was a Military Police
officer), he is too easily identified as too much on
the side of criminals. With the increasing crime
wave in Belo Horizonte, crime will probably be the
central issue in the election. The perception that
Leite is soft on crime will play a pivotal
psychological role in whom voters elect, Coimbras
stressed. Another problem Leite has is campaign
funds: since Leite is not really seen as Neves'
candidate, he is also having trouble raising money.

10. (SBU) Comment: The mayoral race in Belo
Horizonte is too close to call at this point. Like
the three previous races for mayor, it will probably
remain too close to call right up to the day of the
elections. Watching the polls once the influential
television and radio spots begin on August 18 will
inform on what the effect of the Mendonca publicity
campaign in conjunction with the participation of PT
heavy-weights, the incumbency, and the PT war chest
has in getting Pimentel elected. The big unknown is
the evangelical support for Leite, which may turn
the tide in his favor.

11. (SBU) A PT win in Belo Horizonte, the third
largest city in Brazil, would be an important
indicator of the success of the Lula administration
two years into its term. The recent surge in the PT
mayoral incumbent's popularity in Sao Paulo is also
a good sign of the people's approval of the PT. The
improvement in the economy is another plus for the
administration. In Rio de Janeiro, however, the
Liberal Party candidate is likely to win, with the
PT candidate still in the single digits in the
polls. Two out of the three largest cities in the
country is not bad. End Comment.

BENESCH

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