A re-energized Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is seeking a third term in October elections, is firing up his supporters as he hits the road to campaign after claiming full recovery from a bout of cancer.
Launching a nationwide tour late on Thursday, Chavez told thousands of supporters in the northeastern state of Anzoategui that he was “very happy” to be “back in the street again.”
However, this was only his second rally since the campaign officially launched early this month, a very slow start for a politician known for his populist style embracing the crowds and a stark contrast with his opponent, the youthful Henrique Capriles, who has already traveled relentlessly across the country.
“Trying to appear as someone who has beat the disease is the best strategy for the president, who is facing a rival in excellent physical condition,” said Victor Mijares, a political science professor at Simon Bolivar University.
“Capriles has tried to maintain a frenetic, constant pace of activity that is physically very demanding to show the difference between a candidate on the move who walks in front and a candidate who does not,” he added.
The former Miranda State governor has focused on small towns and remote villages, sometimes visiting two a day.
Surveys show many Venezuelans had doubted until weeks ago whether the firebrand leftist president would stand for re-election after multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation therapy in Cuba over the past year.
The exact location and nature of the cancer has never been revealed, with officials only saying that Chavez, 57, underwent surgery to remove cancerous tumors from his pelvis.
However, after formally launching his campaign with a mass rally on July 1, Chavez has sought to dispel doubts about his health, increasing his public appearances and announcing last week that he was exercising again and was free to take on the tough election battle without “physical restrictions.”
The president is “looking for person-to-person” contacts beyond the media mainstream to “prove he has much support in the polls and on the street,” political analyst Farith Fraija said.
With three months to go before the Oct. 7 vote, most polls put Chavez firmly in the lead, but Capriles, 40, is counting on undecided voters — estimated to be 35 percent of the electorate.
Capriles has claimed he will defeat Chavez, even predicting a 10-point margin of victory. He has vowed to tackle what he calls the country’s three main problems — poverty, unemployment and violence.
However, Fraija said the challenger’s strategy has not reduced the gap with Chavez and has instead allowed the president to have “more autonomy” in managing direct contacts with the electorate.
“Capriles is looking for what he does not have — popular support — while the president is consolidating popular support,” Fraija said.