BRASILIA/SAO PAULO Brazilian presidential front-runner Dilma Rousseff and her opposition rival courted the Green Party on Monday after a strong election showing made it a significant force ahead of a runoff vote.
Rousseff, who hopes to become Brazil's first female leader, needs to attract a relatively small proportion of the nearly 20 million people who voted for Green Party candidate Marina Silva to secure victory in the October 31 election.
Rousseff got 46.9 percent in Sunday's first-round vote and needs just a few more percentage points in terms of support to win a majority and ride the popularity of her mentor, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of the Workers' Party, into the presidential palace.
Serra of the centrist PSDB party, who trailed Rousseff by 14 percentage points, faces a much tougher route to the presidency and must win over most of Silva's supporters.
Former environment minister Silva placed a surprisingly strong third with 19.3 percent after siphoning away many votes from Rousseff at the last minute.
Some supporters of Silva, an evangelical Christian, were apparently turned off by corruption allegations that have dogged Rousseff's inner circle and by her progressive views on abortion.
"I would highly value Marina's support but that doesn't mean she needs to support me," Rousseff told a news conference in Brasilia after meeting members of her coalition. "We have more in common than differences."
Analysts said that while the race would tighten if Serra scoops up Silva's votes, Rousseff remained the strong favorite, barring any bombshells such as new corruption scandals.
Silva and Rousseff often clashed while they were in Lula's cabinet. Rousseff, as the president's chief of staff, pushed big development projects in the Amazon that Silva opposed as unsustainable.
As a result, she quit as environment minister in 2008 and left the Workers' Party before joining the Greens.
That fractious history could play into the hands of Serra's camp, though the Green Party has yet to decide who it will back.
"We understand the anxiety of both candidates. The fact is that it will be a process of 15 days," Alfredo Sirkis, a party director, told Reuters.
LULA SUPPORT CRUCIAL
Rousseff met with top advisers on Monday to figure out how to address long-standing questions about her lack of charisma and executive experience -- as well as relatively new ones about her religious faith and stance on social issues that caused her support to slip in the past two weeks.
Still, Rousseff, 62, has by far the biggest asset in the campaign: the support of Lula. The former union boss handpicked his former chief of staff to continue the stable economic management that has made Brazil a darling of foreign investors and lifted millions of people from poverty.
Opinion polls conducted before Sunday's vote projected that Rousseff would win a runoff against Serra by as much as 20 percentage points. Lula has promised to crisscross the country during the next four weeks to campaign for her.
Brazilian markets were calm on Monday as both Serra and Rousseff broadly promise the same mix of investor-friendly policies and social welfare programs seen under Lula.
But asset prices could be volatile on Tuesday after the government raised a tax on foreign investments to help curb a rally in the local currency, the real.
Some investors who had been betting on a quick Rousseff victory were bracing for a contentious end to the campaign and said that some volatility was possible.
"Suddenly, the race is back on," said Neil Shearing, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics in London.
A continued gusher of public spending, which has already soared during the campaign, could put Brazil at a greater risk of missing its budget targets.
The election's big surprise was a shift by religious voters who oppose abortion, especially evangelical Christians who are growing in influence and now make up about 20 percent of the population in the overwhelmingly Catholic country.
Internet videos showing Rousseff's past comments on abortion became a viral hit in recent weeks, drawing more than 2 million views on YouTube. In the videos, Rousseff, a former leftist guerrilla leader, appeared to favor the decriminalization of abortion, which is illegal in most cases.
On Monday, she seemed to try to put the issue to rest, saying on Globo TV, "One of our principles is to value life in all of its forms."
Rousseff, a twice-divorced cancer survivor, will also have to answer questions about a recent corruption scandal involving a former top aide, which revived voter concerns about graft within her party.
Lula has played down the prospect of Rousseff losing a runoff, noting that he also faced a second round of voting in 2002 and 2006 and emerged with a strong mandate both times.
He has touted her as the best candidate to extend Brazil's economic growth, which is expected to top 7 percent this year, and push through needed infrastructure projects as the country prepares to host the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.
The boom has helped cement Brazil's membership in the "BRIC" group of large emerging markets that includes Russia, India and China.
Serra, the former Sao Paulo governor, has issues of his own and his support has remained stuck around 30 percent for weeks.
Serra, 68, and his party, which presided over Brazil during a difficult era of privatizations and market turmoil from 1995 until Lula took office in 2003, will have to shed an elitist reputation to gain a majority of votes.