Brazil presidential hopeful pulls away from Rousseff government

BRASILIA Wed Sep 18, 2013 7:40pm EDT

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff (C) looks on as Pernambuco's Governor Eduardo Campos speaks to Rio de Janeiro's Governor Sergio Cabral (R) during a ceremony, which launches the National Plan for Risk Management and Disaster Response and inaugurates the new premises of the National Centre for Disaster and Risk Management (Cenad), in Brasilia August 8, 2012. REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino

Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff (C) looks on as Pernambuco's Governor Eduardo Campos speaks to Rio de Janeiro's Governor Sergio Cabral (R) during a ceremony, which launches the National Plan for Risk Management and Disaster Response and inaugurates the new premises of the National Centre for Disaster and Risk Management (Cenad), in Brasilia August 8, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Ueslei Marcelino

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BRASILIA (Reuters) - Eduardo Campos, one of Brazil's most popular state governors, came one step closer to a presidential bid on Wednesday when his party withdrew from President Dilma Rousseff's 17-party coalition government.

The Brazilian Socialist Party decided to pull its two ministers from Rousseff's cabinet to give Campos freedom to run in elections in October 2014. By giving up the two ministries, even though the party will continue to support Rousseff in Congress, the Socialists will be less beholden to her ruling Workers' Party during an expected campaign for the top job.

Campos, the successful governor of the northeastern state of Pernambuco, a historically poor state that grew faster than the national average during Brazil's recent decade-long boom, rose to national prominence with his party's strong showing in municipal elections last year. He has been considering a run for the presidency since then.

"The desire of the party today is to have its own candidate," Campos told reporters after a meeting of PSB leaders, where they decided its ministers should resign.

Rousseff, who is widely expected to seek re-election, saw her popularity tank after massive street protests in June against poor public services, corruption and Brazil's high cost of living. But her approval ratings have begun to recover and she is the odds-on favorite among a relatively weak field of potential rivals.

Campos, 48, could combine his business-friendly message with support for popular poverty programs in Brazil's hardscrabble northeast, a traditional bastion of Rousseff's Workers' Party. A poll in July in Brazil's major 11 states found that Campos was the most highly rated governor.

One handicap, though, is his low name recognition nationally. A run in 2014 could help boost his profile, but Campos may have to wait until 2018 for a serious presidential bid.

A recent poll showed Campos running fourth in voter intentions with just 5.2 percent, compared to 36.4 percent for Rousseff, 22.4 percent for former environment minister Marina Silva and 15.2 percent for Aecio Neves, the leader of the main opposition party, the PSDB.

Campos could try to team up with Neves, but he is not expected to settle for a vice-presidential slot.

Campos met recently with Neves in a much publicized encounter that annoyed the government and other allies and led to calls for the eviction of the PSB ministers.

A spokesman for Rousseff said the party had sent the president a letter informing her that the ministers of national integration, Fernando Bezerra, and ports, Leônidas Cristino, would be leaving their posts.

(Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Paulo Prada and Christopher Wilson)

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