Well, it had to come to this: Benjamín Rausseo, much better known as El Conde del Guacharo, has launched his presidential bid.
It's a bit of a challenge to explain who Mr. Rausseo is to foreign readers. Basically, he's a stand-up comedian who long ago launched a wildly successful, unabashedly ribald act as "El Conde del Guacharo" - a fast talking, obscenity-spewing, tell-it-like-it-is everyman from Oriente. Love his comedy or hate it, Er Conde is just about as far from a traditional politician as it's possible to imagine.
Not surprisingly, the question that dogs Rausseo at this stage is whether he is, you know, actually serious about this. It sure seems like he is: wearing a suit, making a gargantuan effort to contain the stream of utter obscenity that is the cornerstone of his comedy act, and fielding questions (mostly) seriously, he's making every effort to convey that this is not a joke.
Alarmingly, Rausseo seems to be the most talented campaigner the opposition has come up with so far. Making the most of his humble begginings, but also wasting no opportunity to talk about his successful career in business (the guy built and owns a Theme Park in Margarita,) his soon-to-be-earned law degree and his polyglotal abilities, Er Conde is packaging himself as the no-nonsense alternative to Chavez. He's the one opposition guy able to talk to regular Venezuelans in a language they can understand, able to level with them without condescending or patronizing, and able to stake out a dissident position that's solidly grounded in good old, popular common sense. When it comes to connecting with regular people on a gut level, he's just light-years ahead of Borges, Petkoff and Rosales...which is not surprising, since connecting with regular people on a gut level has been his job for 20 years.
Can his candidacy attain the Electoral Tsunami status he aspires to? Only time will tell. For now, I'll just note that his strategic positioning is excellent. Rausseo is selling himself with Roberto Smithesque marketing savvy, but without Smith's hoity-toity East-side-Caracas-via-Harvard baggage. His pitch is solidly centered on Chavez's polling weak points ("se acabó la regaladera de plata! primero los de acá, los demás que se pongan en fila!") and what he lacks in experience he more than makes up in charm, street cred, and chispa.
Other positives? Absolutely everyone knows who El Conde del Guacharo is - and almost everyone seems to like him: he is one candidate with no name-recognition problems, and low negatives. Moreover, he is one guy Chavez just can't run his usual playbook on: Rausseo's outsider aura and popular touch makes him the only candidate with a real chance to out-Chavez-Chavez, to out-feel people's pain, and to out-flank any personal attack. Actually, with his legendary, acerbic wit, trying to attack him would be a distinctly risky proposition for Chavez...who else could bitch-slap the guy the way El Conde could?
Remember how people said Teodoro was a good candidate because Chavez could not credibly dick him around? Well, it turned out that Chavez didn't have to dick him around, because Teodoro is such a hopeless campaigner Chavez can just ignore him. Rausseo, though, is the real thing: a guy who can't be ignored and can't (safely) be attacked.
It's amazing, alarming, depressing, just plain sad that it's come to this, but...I'm sort of excited about it.
[Rausseo's Globovision appearance is here. His campaign website is here.]