Saturday, October 30, 2010

Brazil Worker's Party Presidential Candidate Dilma Rousseff Cruises Through Last TV Debate

Brazil's Rousseff cruises through last TV debate

11:32pm EDT
By Stuart Grudgings

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilian ruling party candidate Dilma Rousseff cruised through the final television debate with her presidential rival on Friday as another poll showed her heading for a convincing win in Sunday's runoff election.

Opposition candidate Jose Serra had a last chance to win over undecided voters on Brazil's most-watched channel, but he opted not to go on the attack in a debate that had no heated exchanges between the candidates.

The debate on Globo television was in a "town hall" format with the candidates discussing questions from undecided voters, leaving little room for Serra to corner the former chief of staff of outgoing President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

As she has throughout the campaign, Rousseff repeatedly stressed Brazil's huge economic strides under Lula, the wildly popular former union boss who hand-picked her to succeed him.

"The economy is growing, people are going up in the world, 28 million Brazilians have left poverty and I'll bring the remaining 20 million out of poverty," said Rousseff, the candidate of the left-leaning Workers' Party.

Rousseff, a 62-year-old career bureaucrat, leads Serra by a comfortable double-digit margin and is on track to become the first woman to be elected Brazil's president, opinion polls show.

A Datafolha survey released on Friday showed her holding steady with a 10-point lead. Rousseff had 50 percent of voter support compared to Serra's 40 percent. The previous Datafolha poll on Tuesday showed Rousseff leading Serra by 49 percent to 38 percent.

Former Sao Paulo state Governor Serra has failed to convincingly win any of the debates so far as Rousseff has fended off his attacks on her lack of experience and alleged involvement in graft scandals.

The Globo debate has been a closely watched event in Brazilian presidential races since 1989, when a poor performance by Lula in his first run for the top job tipped the election in favor of Fernando Collor.

Serra used the debate to push his argument that Brazil should be doing better and is facing growing barriers to its growth, such as an expensive currency, a high tax burden and decrepit infrastructure.

Barring a major corruption scandal, which seems unlikely so close to election day, or a huge collective opinion poll error, the former leftist militant Rousseff appears certain to win.


Rousseff would have a 12-point lead, with 56 percent versus 44 percent for Serra, once blank and void ballots are excluded, as they are on election day, the new Datafolha poll showed. Voting is mandatory in Brazil, but some leave their ballots blank to show dissatisfaction with the candidates.

Rousseff has regained momentum after a drop in support several weeks ago caused by doubts about her religious beliefs and her alleged involvement in corruption scandals.

Such concerns probably deprived her of an outright victory in the election's first round on October 3.

She has since steered the discussion back to the eight years of strong economic growth under Lula.

If she wins, Rousseff is expected to continue Lula's mix of market-friendly policies and social programs while expanding the role of the state in some areas of the economy.

Datafolha surveyed 4,205 people on Thursday for the poll, which had a margin of error of 2 percentage points. Five percent plan to submit blank votes or not vote for either candidate, while 4 percent were undecided.

(Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Rio and Hugo Bachega in Sao Paulo; Editing by Stacey Joyce)

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