Overnight, a presidential contender in Brazil?                              

Three Candidates and a Brazilian Funeral

Mac Margolis writes about Latin America for Bloomberg View. He was a reporter for Newsweek and is the author of “The Last New World: The Conquest of the Amazon Frontier.”
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With Brazil still stunned over the tragic death of Eduardo Campos, the presidential hopeful who died in a plane crash on Aug. 13, the aggressive campaign for the Oct. 3 elections has gone circumspect. Blood rivals have lowered their fists, climbed off the stump, and gone out of their way to comfort Campos's family and praise the fallen Socialist Party leader.

This is only decent, but it is also political Kabuki. As the presidential contest enters its final weeks, with 10 contenders elbowing for advantage, there's little time for paying respects.

Expect the niceties to end this week , following the state funeral today in Recife, the capital of the northeast state where Campos launched his political career.

Behind the scenes, the tussle over Campos's mantle is already underway. Former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva reportedly phoned Roberto Amaral, head of Campos's Socialist Party and onetime ally, who bolted the governing alliance after a falling out a few years back. Lula wants to make up or at least to divide the party to boost his protege, the incumbent Dilma Rousseff, whose lead in the polls is slipping.

But the real prize is Marina Silva, the 56-year-old former school teacher who left the rubber groves of the Amazon rain forest for the political jungle of Brasilia. Campos's running mate and likely successor, Silva was deeply shaken by the tragedy and has declined to comment on her plans.

Silva was elected to the Senate on the Green Party ticket, where her impassioned defense of the rainforest caught Lula's ear. He wooed her to the ruling Workers Party and named her environment minister, to the applause of green groups.

There, Silva collided with industrialists, contractors and Big Agriculture, powerful lobbies all, whose pricey development projects were key to Lula's plan to nurture a Latin powerhouse.

She stepped down in 2008, but then launched her own quixotic presidential bid with the tiny Green Party. She grabbed third place and 20 million votes, enough to rattle the country's political establishment and force Rousseff into a runoff.

Now the party potentates are bracing again for the Silva effect. Formally, she must win the imprimatur of Campos's six-party United for Brazil coalition. Sotto voce, the orphaned campaign allows that it's a done deal.

Now pundits and spinmen are scrambling to reset the campaign. "With Marina in the running, the presidential race changes totally," said Brazilian political analyst, Carlos Pereira, at the Getulio Vargas Foundation in Rio de Janeiro. Pereira said that Silva could conceivably steal enough votes to overtake No. 2 contender, Social Democrat Aecio Neves, and push Rousseff into a runoff again.

Speculation for now is not over whether Silva will run, but what sort of candidate -- perhaps even president -- she might be.

When Silva quit the Lula government, it was over his banker-friendly, bulldozer-happy development program. Yet she chose a billionaire businessman, the head of a cosmetics company, as her running mate in 2010.

Known for her soft-left agenda -- boosting peasant farmers, thwarting land barons -- she also is a devout evangelical Christian, who backs gay rights but not same-sex marriage. She now has Eduardo Giannetti, a widely respected centrist, as her chief economic advisor.

But convictions may have to wait. To prevail in Brazil's fractious political arena (there are 22 parties in Congress) and then marshal a governing coalition (Rousseff's has 10), Silva's prospects will turn less on her own beliefs than on her skills as a conciliator and willingness to bite her tongue.

Campos, a consummate politician, who was a fiery socialist on the stump, but a pragmatist on the job, had what it takes. Silva is still a work in progress.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Bloomberg View's editorial board or Bloomberg LP, its owners and investors.

To contact the author on this story:
Mac Margolis at mmargolis14@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors on this story:
James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net
James Greiff at jgreiff@bloomberg.net