* 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 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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For the candidates' proposals click [ID:nN04266067]
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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,
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)