• Massa recovered since nearly quitting in June, adviser says
  • Polls show he could win in run-off vote, adviser Bendixen says

Sergio Massa thinks he can mount a last-gasp rally and nick the Argentine presidential race from under the noses of his more popular rivals just three months after almost quitting the race, according to his chief political adviser.

After performing better than expected in primaries in August, polls show support for the former cabinet chief under Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner is rising fast ahead of the Oct. 25 vote. Some surveys even show him defeating ruling-party candidate Daniel Scioli in a second round.

Massa, 43, who has pledged to end currency controls within 100 days after taking over the presidency and to eliminate export tariffs, has become more popular among voters as runner-up Mauricio Macri is hit by a corruption scandal involving a member of his party, said Sergio Bendixen, founder of Miami-based polling firm Bendixen & Amandi International. Scioli, the leading candidate is now vulnerable to a defeat in a run-off, Bendixen said.

“We think the race is competitive - it’s not like how they said it was after the primaries, that it’s an election between Scioli and Macri,” Bendixen, who has advised President Barack Obama on the U.S. Latino vote and who now works for Massa, said. Scioli winning in a first round “is a possibility, but there’s still nearly five weeks left and that’s an eternity in a political process.”

Whoever wins will have to tackle a fiscal deficit forecast by Fitch Ratings Ltd. to reach 7 percent of gross domestic product this year, inflation of 25 percent and year-end net reserves that may drop as low as $6 billion.

A poll by Raul Aragon & Asociados released on Monday showed Massa rose to 23 percent of intended votes in September from 16 percent in July. Macri fell to 28 percent from 30 percent and Scioli gained to 40 percent from 39 percent. Bendixen’s most recent poll put the gap between Massa and Macri at “two or three points,” he said, without giving details.

To avoid a run-off, a candidate must win with 45 percent of votes or with 40 percent and a 10 percentage point lead over the nearest rival. If Scioli fails to reach those targets, some polls show that Scioli would still defeat Macri in a second round, but would either lose or is statistically tied with Massa.

Massa, a lawmaker from Tigre in Buenos Aires province, served as cabinet chief under President Kirchner before leaving her government and forming a dissident Peronist movement that won most votes in Buenos Aires province in mid-term legislative elections in 2013. That converted him into the early front-runner to succeed her while simultaneously denying her the two-thirds majority she needed to push through constitutional reforms that would have allowed her to seek a third consecutive term.

A year ago, Massa was tied with Scioli and Macri. His mistake was to seek to forge alliances with local “caudillo” Peronist leaders that his followers don’t respect, Bendixen said. As recently as June, Massa was considering dropping out of the race and would have accepted an opposition alliance with Macri, but was rebuffed, he said.

“From that point he recovered and I think Macri’s people are now thinking they committed a serious error,” Bendixen said.

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