August 5, 2010 / 1:06 PM / 7 years ago

Brazil's Serra eyes TV to claw back poll losses

4 Min Read

* Serra will show experience, knock Rousseff achievements

* Rousseff under less pressure because leads in polls

* Likely hot topics are health, education, security

By Raymond Colitt

BRASILIA, Aug 5 (Reuters) - Brazil's opposition candidate Jose Serra has debated in public since he was a student leader nearly half a century ago, but in the first TV debate in October's presidential race it will be difficult for him to recover support lost in recent months.

Former Sao Paulo state Governor Serra, 68, has run for public office seven times, boasts an Ivy League education and extensive managerial experience.

And yet in just over six months he went from leading by 20 percentage points to trailing the ruling party candidate Dilma Rousseff, a sometimes lackluster technocrat who has never stood for public office in her life. [ID:nN30185728]

In the debate on TV Bandeirantes on Thursday night, Serra will not only try to play up his experience but also undermine Rousseff's role as energy minister and later chief of staff in President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's government.

But analysts say it will be a delicate balancing act, given that the vast majority of the people are satisfied with the economy and the Lula government.

"He's got to challenge her without looking aggressive," said Valeriano Costa, a professor of politics at Unicamp. Serra already had an image as arrogant, Costa said.

"Serra is more experienced in debates but it's difficult and he has more pressure to perform," said Costa.


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In a country with a low penetration of print media, television is a particularly important campaigning tool, even though an important local soccer match could cut the debate's audience in Sao Paulo.

While only 7 percent of voters obtained election information from the radio and the Internet respectively, 12 percent relied on newspapers and 65 percent on TV, a recent Datafolha poll showed.

Analysts say debates on the major networks before the Oct. 3 poll will influence mostly opinion-makers and a larger than usual number of undecided voters.

Opinion polls have fluctuated considerably in recent weeks in response to ad campaigns on TV.

Rousseff's challenge will be to emerge from the shadow of her mentor Lula and convince voters she can stand on her own.

Aware she is less experienced than her rival, she has spent the better part of three days rehearsing for the debate.

Asked whether she was nervous, she responded the opposition candidates would need to take several tranquilizers. She had no problem discussing health issues with Serra, a former health minister, but would also focus on public security, an issue Serra had struggled with when he was mayor of Sao Paulo, Rousseff said.

With Rousseff's 5-8 percentage point lead in some polls, she is under less pressure to go on the offensive.

"All Rousseff really needs to do in this debate is to play conservatively and avoid big mistakes," said Chris Garman, Latin America analysts with EurasiaGroup consultancy.

Editing by Vicki Allen

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