Brazil candidates eye faith voters, sharpen attacks

Fri Oct 8, 2010 3:29pm EDT

Related Topics

* Appeals to religious voters dominate new TV ads

* Serra says was consistently against abortion

* Rousseff still favorite but race seen tighter

By Stuart Grudgings

RIO DE JANEIRO, Oct 8 (Reuters) - Brazil's two presidential candidates made their strongest appeals yet to religious voters and sharpened attacks on each other on Friday as they drew battle lines for this month's runoff vote.

In her first television campaign slot since she narrowly failed to win the election outright in Sunday's first round, Dilma Rousseff of the ruling Workers' Party began by thanking God and repeatedly mentioned her faith and "respect for life."

Her campaign also tackled head on rumors that circulated on the Internet about her stance on abortion which are believed to have cost her crucial votes from evangelical Christians.

"In the second round, I want to have a campaign that above all is in defense of life," said Rousseff, a former chief of staff to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and who in the past has supported more abortion rights in the world's most populous Roman Catholic country.

Rousseff, 62, said she had suffered a "slanderous" campaign and wanted to focus on comparing the eight years of the Lula government with the previous administration led by the centrist PSDB party, from which her rival Jose Serra hails.

"We will debate with a lot of clarity which one of the two models of government is better for the country's future."

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Special report on Rousseff: link.reuters.com/fab25p

Political risks in Brazil: [ID:nRISKBR]

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In Serra's TV spot, several pregnant women were shown holding their bellies as the 68-year-old former health minister claimed he had always been against the procedure, which is illegal in most cases in Latin America's largest country.

Serra, who got a new lease on life by surviving Sunday's vote, said he would "defend Brazilian family values -- democracy, respect for life and the environment."

POLLS SEEN TIGHTENING

Both candidates are angling for the nearly 20 percent of the electorate that voted for third-placed candidate Marina Silva, an evangelical who was Lula's environment minister.

Rousseff, who is riding Lula's popularity and a booming economy in her first election campaign, might have reached the 50 percent of votes needed for a first-round victory if not for the effect of a corruption scandal involving a former aide and the late desertion of values voters to Silva.

Rousseff won 46.9 percent of votes, with Serra on 32.6 percent and Silva getting 19.3 percent. Silva's Green Party is due to announce in the next two weeks which candidate it will support in the Oct. 31 runoff.

Most analysts say Rousseff remains the favorite and could become the first woman to lead Brazil. But the race is expected to tighten in upcoming opinion polls, energizing an opposition party that had seemed almost down and out.

Rousseff's left-leaning Workers' Party and its ruling coalition are expected to step up their attacks on the opposition's record while it was in government in the 1990s, when Brazil still suffered from economic instability.

"Brazil doesn't want to go back to the past," her advertisement said, after listing the Lula government's achievements such as the millions lifted out of poverty.

Serra seemed to try to preempt such criticism by praising the contribution of Lula's predecessor, Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who is widely credited for laying the groundwork for Brazil's economic boom.

The strategy of portraying the PSDB as elitist and in favor of privatization proved successful for Lula in his 2006 runoff against PSDB candidate Geraldo Alckmin. Alckmin was put on the defensive and never recovered as Lula accused him of wanting to sell off state-owned companies. (Editing by Todd Benson and Anthony Boadle)

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