November 17, 2008

Election guide 2008: The Governors

Juan Cristobal says: - Dozens of governors' races, hundreds of mayor's races. With so much information, what should you watch out for in Sunday's Regional Elections? How will you be able to tell whether we did well or we underperformed?

What follows is my personal summary of the election, including the things to look out for in each state.

First off, Governors.

Safe opposition states

Importance: Crucial. The most populous state in the country, one that has rarely supported Chávez in the past, bucking the rest of the country's trend. Oh, and it's the most vergatarious place on Earth ...
Opposition candidate: Pablo Pérez (UNT), Manuel Rosales' right-hand man in the State government for the past eight years. Not a particularly inspired candidate, but he's getting the job done.
Chavista candidate: Giancarlo DiMartino, popularly known as DiMardito. Effective as mayor of Maracaibo, but recent allegations of corruption and links with the FARC have seriously hurt his standing among moderates.
What to look for: Pérez will win, double digits.

Importance: Little to none. Beautiful state is also one of the poorest, far removed from Caracas. Traditionally strong adeco presence and nasty fight with the dissident current governor may have come back to haunt chavismo.
Opposition candidate: Eduardo Morales Gil, Sucre's first elected governor and something of an intellectual. Check out this fun little video on his website.
Chavista candidate: Enrique Maestre, mayor of Cumaná. His candidacy has been beset by infighting. One of the states where chavista allies the PCV (Communist Party) is running its own candidate.
What to look for: Comfortable eight-point win for Morales Gil.

Importance: A legion of former Venezuelan presidents hailed from Táchira, from Castro to Gómez to Lopez Contreras to Medina to Pérez Jiménez to CAP. Is it something in the water? Border state is home to the main traffic routes to and from Colombia. In recent years, rural areas have become notorious safe havens for the FARC, under the complacent watch of chavista authorities. The state gave the opposition one of its biggest margins of victory last December.
Opposition candidate: César Pérez Vivas, former COPEI congressman and scratching post for demented chavista feline and fellow Táchira congresswoman Iris Varela. Winner of a late primary amongst opposition candidates.
Chavista candidate: Leonardo Salcedo. Won the PSUV primary against all odds, beating strong candidates Vielma Mora and Arias Cárdenas. Considered part of the "technocratic" wing of the PSUV (if there is such a thing). An Oxford-educated lawyer, so it's no surprise Iris Varela considers him a sifrino, which should immediately make him palatable to moderates. Another state where the Communists are running their own candidate.
What to look for: Pérez Vivas with a comfortable nine-point win.

Nueva Esparta
Importance: Little to none. The smallest state in the country is its own little island paradise, far removed from many of the political ills of the mainland. Still, it's nice to know it's there, a sturdy opposition stronghold, one of two states we managed to win in the 2004 debacle.
Opposition candidate: Morel Rodríguez, incumbent governor and a one-time protegé of former President Carlos Andrés Pérez.
Chavista candidate: William Fariñas. Fariñas has had a long and undistinguished career managing different funds set up by Chávez like the FUS and the Foncrei. A former Lt. Cnel. of the Air Force, he participated in the aborted coup of November, 1992. Considered part of chavismo's radical wing.
What to look for: Rodríguez with a comfortable double-digit win.

States that are leaning opposition

Huge. Caracas' backyard is the second most populous state in the nation. A mix of urban and rural voters of all ethnic backgrounds make this an interesting bellweather.
Opposition candidate: Henrique Capriles Radonski (PJ), mayor of Baruta. After much wrangling and the help of Clodosvaldo Russián, who ilegally banned popular former governor Enrique Mendoza, the opposition decanted on Capriles as its candidate.
Chavista candidate: Incumbent governor and Chávez right-hand man, Diosdado Cabello. Hard to believe Godgiven Hair was actually President for, like, three minutes. Makes up lack of charisma with machiavellian sense of timing, a pragmatic streak and an allegedly large stake in many a shady business. Although Chávez has been campaigning hard for him, he has huge negatives that all but rule out a win for him.
What to look for: Capriles ekes out a four-point win, but this could be a cliffhanger, and if Cabello pulls it off, there could be trouble in the streets.

Importance: More symbolic than anything else. Agricultural state in the center of the country is fertile ground for Chavez's message, so an opposition win here would carry large symbolic weight.
Opposition candidate: Alberto Galíndez, former AD governor. Hey, he may be from Cojedes, but he has his own Facebook group.
Chavista candidate: Teodoro Bolívar, mayor of Tinaco. An economist with a graduate degree, Bolívar seems like too much of a yes-man to make much of a dent in a state where the Chávez brand has been severly damaged. Plus, the MEP is running its own candidate in Cojedes.
What to look for:
Galíndez with a narrow three-point win.

Importance: Moderate. Another one of those llanero states where interesting things are happening. What should be a chavista lock is looking less and less like one.
Opposition candidate:
Lenny Manuitt, state Assembly member and the daughter of incumbent governor Eduardo Manuitt. While Manuitt is technically not part of the opposition, she is no chavista either. She hardly qualifies as a chavista "dissident" when Chávez has accused her, her father and her party (the PPT) of high treason and worse. Iris Varela went so far as to accuse Governor Manuitt of violating human rights. Meanwhile, the opposition has been busily shooting itself in the foot by running folk singer Reynaldo Armas and former MAS congressman Nicolás Sosa. Still, look to Manuitt to seal the deal in what has become a fight of Shakesperian proportions.
Chavista candidate:
Willian Lara, former Minister, former president of the National Assembly and frontline chavista figurehead. A prissy, urbane university type, Lara has looked hopelessly out of place mingling with rural Guárico voters.
What to look for: Manuitt will eke out a win in this three-way election. Pundits will tack this for the "dissidence," but there is no such thing in Chávez's "with-me-or-against-me" world.

Importance: On paper, moderate to little. Symbolically, huge. A loss for Chávez in his own home fiefdom would be hard for the Narcissist-in-chief to digest.
Opposition candidate:
Julio Cesar Reyes, mayor of Barinas. While the nominal opposition candidate is former congressman and Chávez marble playmate Rafael Simón Jiménez, he will not be a factor in this election. Like in Guárico, Reyes will ride a wave of anti-corruption outrage and win this election.
Chavista candidate: Adán Chávez Frías. Does the name ring a bell?
What to look for:
Save your dulce de lechoza for when Reyes wins with a two-percentage point victory in this three-way election. I eagerly await an ungracious, expletive-laden concession speech by Adán's brother.

Importance: Huge. Industrial powerhouse is the third-most populous state in the nation.
Opposition candidate: Henrique Salas Feo (PV), former governor and the son of former governor and presidential candidate Henrique Salas Römer. Salas Feo lost his job by a few thousand votes in the 2004 debacle, and he looks set to recapture it.
Chavista candidate:
Mario Silva, viperous shock-jock. One of the few people in Venezuela the opposition hates more than Chávez. Say what you will, but it takes talent to accomplish such a thing. Running Silva in a moderate, prosperous state like Carabobo is akin to Sarah Palin running for mayor of Provincetown. Don't miss Silva's Frikipedia profile.
What to look for: Salas Feo will win, but by less than people are predicting (I say six points). Incumbent chavista governor and so-called "traitor" Acosta may just steal more votes from Salas than Silva. Still, it's hard to see Silva or Acosta winning this thing.

Final tally for the opposition: 9 states

States that are leaning chavista

Importance: High. Populous, prosperous state in eastern Venezuela should be fertile ground for the opposition. In fact, Anzoátegui voted strongly against the government last December.
Opposition candidate: Gustavo Marcano (PJ), mayor of the Puerto La Cruz suburb of Lechería. Marcano was the runner-up in the primaries and assumed the nominal unity candidacy when front-runner Barreto Sira was banned from running. Marcano is young and energetic, but he has been hurt by allegations of nepotism when he named his mother to run for his current post of mayor. Comedian Benjamín Rausseo ("Er Conde del Guácharo") didn't get the unity memo and has run a surprisingly strong campaign.
Chavista candidate: Incumbent governor Tarek William Saab. The "poet of the revolution" has kept a low profile nationally in the last few years, and he has never been regarded as a scenery-chewing chavista.
What to look for: Look for Saab to post a comfortable seven-point win. Marcano and Rausseo's joint vote tallies will trounce Saab, but they won't hatch a unity deal before the election, and first across the finish line wins.

Importance: Large. Industrial powerhouse is the second-largest state of the union, but the governor has traditionally been less powerful than he/she should be given the federal government's outsized importance in the state. Sucre Figarella, anyone?
Opposition candidate: If you want to make the case that the oppopsition cannot get its act together, Bolívar is Exhibit Number One. The opposition is running two strong candidates: former governor, union leader, congressman and Quico's personal friend Andres Velásquez, and former governor Antonio Rojas Suárez. Both are likely to lose, and the fight has at times been ugly. Curious thing about Rojas Suárez: the PJ candidate was the guy at the wheel of the tank that plowed through the gates of the Palacio Blanco on the placid evening of February 4th, 1992.
Chavista candidate:
Incumbent governor Francisco Rangel Gómez. This is the rare state where chavistas are running several candidates (the PPT has its own man) and, still, they are poised to win because disunity among the opposing ranks is even worse.
What to look for: Rangel will win a comfortable four-point victory, unless a late-hatching unity pact changes things dramatically.

Importance: Moderate. State is mostly agricultural, but lately they have become an important exporter of prickly, pointed political punditry.
Opposition candidate:
Filippo Lapi. Who? Yes, the brother of the former governor Eduardo Lapi, who is on the run from the feds. Filippo stepped up to the plate like three hours ago, after the Supreme Tribunal decided that Eduardo couldn't run. Late-bloomer will not be able to make a dent.
Chavista candidate:
Julio León Heredia, president of the Yaracuy State House. León won the PSUV primary with a mere 26 percent of the votes. Still, this is one state where the Chávez coattails may still carry some weight.
What to look for:
León ekes out a close three-point win.

Importance: Huge. Industrial powerhouse is looking like an important pickup for chavistas.
Opposition candidate: State legislator Henry Rosales (PODEMOS), who won the Súmate-organized primary in what has been one of the highlights of this election season.
Chavista candidate: Former Finance Minister Rafael Isea. Isea is young, charismatic and sort of likeable from what I can gather.
What to look for:
Isea will squeak out a four-point win. It's hard to pinpoint why this isn't closer for the opposition, specially considering that Rosales' ads are really well-made and his website is outstanding. But Aragua is a left-leaning state tailor-made for a moderate chavista candidate like Isea.

Safe chavista states

Importance: Moderate. Venezuela's rooftop is beautiful and its population better educated than the average, but its politics tend to be quirky.
Opposition candidate:
Former governor William Dávila (AD). A longtime Caracas politician, Dávila is backed by pretty much the entire spectrum of opposition parties. His spots, though, have been particularly uninspired. Check out this one and the ones like it - the candidate is not even shown!
Chavista candidate:
Marcos Díaz Orellana, a youngish state government bureaucrat. Díaz benefits from running as a moderate - check out the piano score in the video link on his webpage - straight out of a Hallmark ad.
What to look for:
Díaz will win a comfortable five-point victory. This will be particularly disappointing given that Mérida voted 54% against the Constitutional Reform of 2007, but Díaz Orellana has run a disciplined, centrist campaign.

Importance: Minimal. Apure is like Venezuela's Wyoming, a sparsely populated FARC-infested hinterland. No offense.
Opposition candidate:
Miriam de Montilla, former first lady. Don't miss the vacuous, content-free ads complete with an 80s revival band.
Chavista candidate:
Incumbent governor Jesús Aguilarte. Apure is one of the few states where the PPT and the MEP are also running candidates. They won't affect the outcome.
What to look for: Aguilarte, double-digits. Apure is the land of caciques, and Aguilarte is the current one. Santos Luzardo never wins in Apure - Doña Bárbara does, and Miriam de Montilla is not Doña Bárbara in this analogy.

Delta Amacuro
Importance: Nil. The Delta is one of those places few Venezuelans have ever been to. With no industry and little agriculture, it basically lives off of Chávez's checkbook.
Opposition candidate:
Victor Cedeño (Copei), state assemblyman.
Chavista candidate:
Lizeta Hernández, state bureaucrat and the daughter of a former governor. Other chavista candidates include Amado Heredia and Henry Hernández.
What to look for:
While El Universal is bullish on Cedeño sneaking in thanks to divisions within chavismo, it's more wishful thinking than anything else. Lizeta Hernández will join Guárico's Lenny Manuitt and the lady in the following state as one of our country's three female governors.

Importance: Moderate. Falcón is one of those places that rarely makes the news, but we all sure love to visit its beaches.
Opposition candidate: José Gregorio "Goyo" Graterol (COPEI), former congressman. Graterol was in a bitter fight for the unity nomination against UNT's Luis Stefanelli, and this may have left some scars. His website is surprisingly wonkish in spite of the earsplitting reggaeton soundtrack.
Chavista candidate:
Estela de Montilla, incumbent first lady. Chavismo has been remarkably organized in this state, and Falcón residents don't seem to mind the incumbent governor's Kirchnerian move to push his wife into the seat he is term-limited from. I only hope Mrs. Montilla's commitment to her state parallels her dedication to plastic surgery.
What to look for:
The bosom, in double digits.

Importance: High. Populous central state is one of chavismo's bright spots.
Opposition candidate:
Who cares? Some schmuck named Pedro Pablo Alcántara (UNT) is gonna take the fall on this one.
Chavista candidate: Henry Falcón. Popular, moderate mayor of Barquisimeto was briefly expelled from the PSUV for not being socialist enough, only to force Chávez to swallow his insults due to the mere power of his appeal. One of the few chavistas a good chunk of the opposition will be voting for.
What to look for: Falcón in Lara, in triple digits.

Importance: Moderate to high. Oil powerhouse makes it important, but the real power lies in PDVSA.
Opposition candidate:
Domingo Urbina (AD), mayor of Maturín, the state's capital. Long legacy of AD backdeals in the home state of Luis Alfaro Ucero suggests Urbina is running on a damaged brand.
Chavista candidate:
Incumbent governor Jose Gregorio "el Gato" Briceño. You gotta admire a politician with the gall to name his political party "my cat", but even more admirable is the fact that he is hugely succesful.
What to look for: Briceño, in double digits.

Importance: Low. Agricultural state has many problems, but they seem set to stick with chavismo.
Opposition candidate:
Jobito Villegas (COPEI), current mayor of Mun. Sucre. Villegas has been mentioned in an ugly scheme involving the state police and human rights violations, and this has kept him off message.
Chavista candidate: Wilmar Castro Sotelo, former Tourism Minister and a close ally of Chávez. A moderate in nature (I once heard him being cordially interviewed by Marianella Salazar of all people), he is benefitting from strong chavista roots in his state.
What to look for: Not even Our Lady of Coromoto can prevent Castro from coasting to a double-digit victory. Chavez's allies the PPT and PCV are running a separate candidate, state congresswoman Bella María Petrizzo, but the PPT will lose this seat they currently hold and Castro will be elected.

Importance: Moderate to none. My old stomping grounds, the place where maracuchos drive to "cool off" and harass the locals with their loud music, it is a lovely state to visit, but is rarely in the news. It is also a chavista stronghold, as solidly red as they come.
Opposition candidate: Enrique Catalán (UNT), the former mayor of Valera.
Chavista candidate: Hugo Cabezas, the former head of the ONIDEX and the guy whose signature in the form of an "x" graces millions of Venezuelan ID cards. When you think of it, voters will be voting using a card signed by Cabezas himself - how's that for effective advertising?
What to look for: Cabezas in double digits. Catalán is a nice enough guy, but he's just no match for the chavista machinery in full throttle backing a candidate with national name recognition. Besides, what do Trujillo voters care about an article in the Miami Herald?

Importance: Moderate. Vargas is one of those heavily chavista states that is just begging to be flipped. If only...
Opposition candidate:
Roberto Smith (VdP), former Minister, Ambassador and Presidential candidate. A technocrat and a favorite of Quico's, one can only hope his day finally comes. It won't be this time though.
Chavista candidate:
Jorge Luis García Carneiro, loyal chavista general, former Minister and a "hero" of chavista mythology concerning the 2002 coup.
What to look for: García Carneiro is a lock here, in double digits. Varguenses' dependence on the federal government will override any hopes Smith has of flipping tiny Vargas.

Final tally for chavismo: 13 states.