Brazil’s Lula not on ballot but star of election

* Brazil presidential hopefuls both banking on Lula image

* Trailing badly, Serra plays up link to popular incumbent

By Brian Ellsworth and Natuza Nery

RIO DE JANEIRO/BRASILIA, Aug 20 (BestGrowthStock) – Brazilian
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is quickly becoming the
main act in this year’s presidential election campaign — even
though he is not on the ballot.

Lula’s anointed successor Dilma Rousseff, who noticeably
lacks the former metalworker’s charisma and stage presence, has
built her campaign largely around the popular incumbent —
putting Lula at the center of the campaign.

But opposition candidate Jose Serra, who trails by a wide
margin in opinion polls before the Oct. 3 election, is now
following suit.

He surprised audiences this week with television
advertisements playing up his ties to Lula with images of two
together.

“It’s only natural to latch on to an incumbent president in
the context in which (Lula’s) administration is so popular,”
said Christopher Garman, chief Latin America analyst for the
Eurasia Group in Washington.

“It’s really a sign of lack of good options for the Serra
campaign, given that voters want more of the same.”

A Serra campaign ad shown on Thursday night included
several images of Serra exchanging pleasantries with Lula, who
is barred by the constitution from seeking a third term.

A voice-over in the background intoned “Lula and Serra, two
men of history, two experienced leaders.”

“At first it may be a bit surprising, but in truth Serra is
the best person to continue” Lula’s policies, said Senator
Sergio Guerra, coordinator of Serra’s campaign.

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Factbox on political risks in Brazil: [ID:nRISKBR]

Graphic of Ibope poll: http://link.reuters.com/xyq55n

Graphic of TV campaign time: http://link.reuters.com/tuw55n

Story on undecided rural voters: [nN18185210]

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A cartoon in Brazil’s O Globo newspaper on Friday shows
Serra trying to hitch a ride on a motorcycle being driven by
Lula, who is already carrying Rousseff and Green Party
candidate Marina Silva.

In the caption, Serra is saying, “I’m not going to miss out
on this bonanza: speed up, Lula!”

But the cartoonists are not the only ones chuckling.

“If things continue the way they’re going, Serra’s next TV
ads are going to show him as a coordinator for the Lula
government,” said Jose Eduardo Dutra, head of the ruling
Worker’s Party.

The ad came on the heels of Serra attacks on Lula’s
government for maintaining heavy taxation and for seeking to
clamp down on the country’s media.

Brazilian voters widely credit Lula for Brazil’s strong
economic growth in recent years, which has helped millions
enter the middle class.

Benefiting from the backing of a popular president and a
booming economy, Rousseff erased the 20 percentage point poll
lead that centrist opposition candidate Serra had held at the
beginning of the year.

She raced to her biggest lead yet on Tuesday as a new poll
showed her 16 percentage points ahead of Serra. The Vox Populi
poll showed her with 45 percent to Serra’s 29 percent.

If no candidate obtains more than 50 percent of the vote, a
runoff election would be held on Oct. 31.
(Editing by Raymond Colitt and Mohammad Zargham)

Brazil’s Lula not on ballot but star of election