After the initial disbelief for the tragic death of presidential hopeful Eduardo Campos (1965-2014), I remembered he is in one of my favorite Brasilia stories. Back in 2003, on the first day his good friend Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was sitting on the most important chair of the Executive, the young leader of a still socialist PSB party booked a visit. He was full of enthusiasm for not being in the opposition any longer. As soon as he arrived, he noticed that conservative Congressman Pedro Correa, who had endorsed anti-Lula leader José Serra, a force against any change, was about to enter the office before him.
“Pedro??? What are you doing here?,” Campos asked.
“I am the one in shock here,” Correa replied. “I’ve always been here. Now you are too.”
That moment reflects not only how government works in Brazil, but also the much Campos, third in the 2014 presidential polls, learned from example. The naive Congressman that during a congressional inquiry on Nike asked Ronaldo if he was marking Zidane in the 1998 World Cup final soon became the astute politician who reinvented his party by luring loads of people in. Some were newbies exactly like himself, of course. But old faces like Correa began to be welcome too. Part of the commotion with his early departure comes from his cooptation of rivals of so many colours.
That reinvention, which was stimulated by Lula, came about in 2004 when Campos became Science and Technology Minister. He didn’t have much of a budget, but he could see a sample of the power he could get, although he knew very little about those two issues. That ministerial position made him a political reference in a region that lacks that, the Northeast. It came with a price tag: making PSB a magnet for opposition politicians that couldn’t enjoy the perks of government where they were. It came in handy, since the party first assigned to that task, the sort of left to the center PPS, broke away exactly in 2004.
In 2006, Campos won the Pernambuco elections and governed with everyone that wanted to join in. At the same time, hugely popular Lula got so close that some started calling Campos “the son of the president.” In 2010, Campos got reelection by a landslide — also governing with everyone, including those who could then see him as a presidential hopeful with Lula’s support. Still, none of that gave him much of a national presence.
Outside the Northeast, he was no one because he was still highly dependent of the two major forces, PT and PSDB. That probably explains why Campos’ party spent most of the last years absolutely in love with about 20 of the 27 governors in Brazil, plus the federal administration. The so-called socialists left Dilma Rousseff only in the end of 2013, so Campos could run for president this year — not for any disagreement in particular.
Lula even hoped he could make Campos comeback by promising his support for the presidency in 2018. But Campos was not the newbie of the Zidane question anymore. He was marking Lula’s PT because he believed that it would be his main obstacle for 2018.
Campos also knew he needed to become a household name now so he could have some leverage in the next general elections. Perhaps he could even be kingmaker in a runoff this time: either suggesting his voters to go for Rousseff, Lula’s favorite, or choosing another of his friends, opposition’s Aécio Neves, for a change. This blogger believes there will be a runoff regardless of who is the PSB candidate and the reason is Brazilians have enjoy that extra time.
In the first case, nothing would change in his wait for the presidency, since Rousseff can’t be reelected again if she wins in October. If Neves were to win, he would probably seek reelection in 2018 in a much better position than Campos’, who would have a decent shot only in 2022. Sadly his wait is over.
Although Campos made PSB an important party in the Northeast, it lost some momentum with key allies breaking away, specially in Ceará — a state that is politically more important than Pernambuco. The reason why those allies left: they’d rather see PSB on board with Rousseff again. In some other regions, they prefer to see the party siding with Neves.
Some say Campos’ 9% in the polls, putting him in third place, don’t reflect his potential. The fact is we will never know. Being the third way in general elections, national or statewide, very rarely promotes any real change. It is difficult to believe his “the other guy” status would change in 2018. If Lula were to be PT’s candidate then, the former Pernambuco governor would probably step aside — challenging his friend Rousseff is different business from challenging his fatherly figure.
Brazil’s main political forces are well structured enough in Congress, in governorship and City Halls. PSB would have to double their political presence and multiply their fundraising by ten to be truly competitive nationally. What PSB can do, though, is to assure there is a runoff, which, in my opinion, was going to happen regardless of the candidate.
If PSB decides to replace Campos in their ticket with more popular Marina Silva, it is unlikely she will unite the party. That means that, as a whole, PSB is even smaller than it was under Campos, which is quite a challenge for general elections. Silva might take votes from Rousseff, from Neves and also burst herself into the group of undecided votes.
Of course the elections are less obvious at this point, but to believe Rousseff or Neves will be severely affected by Silva is just as wrong. There could be no impact at all. Neves might have a tougher time getting to the runoff. And Rousseff might lose more than she expects. The only clear impact is that if PSB have no candidate for the general elections, it is likely to end in the first vote, on October 5th. The other parts of the puzzle will be placed on the next days.