Presidency and BA province, the two key races on Sunday

8th August 2019

By Luciana Bertoia

Presidency and BA province, the two key races on Sunday

The race between Mauricio Macri and Alberto Fernández is too close to call, with candidates touring the country on the last hours before the blackout period, which starts on Friday morning.

With no internal competition within the coalitions — as they all settled on just one presidential ticket each — Sunday’s primaries will mostly act as a nationwide poll anticipating where the country stands before the general election in October.

Macri is seen as capable of coming back from a small-margin defeat this week and even in October, with the possibility of a November runoff if no candidate reaches 45 percent of the vote. But runoffs don’t exist in the Buenos Aires province, so Sunday’s result could tell us even more about whether María Eugenia Vidal — the most popular figure in the ruling coalition — will keep the governorship despite adverse conditions.

</p> <h2>A great asset at great risk</h2> <p>For the governing <em>Cambiemos</em> coalition (currently running as <em>Juntos Por el Cambio</em>), Vidal represents its greatest asset, but she&#8217;s also facing some of the biggest risks. The governor is putting on the line the decisive BA province, a Peronist stronghold and one of the areas most affected by the economic crisis.</p> <p>Vidal, a 45-year-old political scientist born in the BA City neighborhood of Flores, came to politics via Buenos Aires city Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta. Macri chose her to lead the ballot for the governorship of Buenos Aires in 2015, in what looked like a losing race. Almost unknown in the province, she was fortunate enough to run against  then-cabinet Chief Aníbal Fernández, a staunch kirchnerite with a high negative image. Vidal&#8217;s upset changed the momentum of the campaign and ended up being the cornerstone for Macri&#8217;s eventual win over Kirchnerite-ally Daniel Scioli in the run-off.</p> <p>But Vidal is facing a more complicated scenario than in 2015. Despite having governed the country&#8217;s most populous district, the main difficulties Vidal has to deal with are unrelated to her administration. Her main problem is its inescapable link to the central government, which is especially unpopular in Buenos Aires&#8217; urban outskirts. According to the INDEC statistics bureau, poverty in the second half of last year amounted to 35.9 percent and destitution reached 8.5 percent in the districts that make up Greater Buenos Aires, both on the rise since the 2018 run against the peso.</p> <p>Vidal is now competing against Cristina Fernández de Kirchner&#8217;s former economy minister, Axel Kicillof. The 47-year-old economist&#8217;s positive image is significantly above that of Aníbal Fernández. Kicillof has also stayed away from legal trouble, a frequent weak spot among former Kirchnerite officials. He was only charged by Federal Judge Claudio Bonadio for the sale of dollar future contracts during his term in office, in a case filed by members of the current ruling coalition. Kicillof is still awaiting trial, but according to judicial sources the case is unlikely to end in a conviction.</p> <h2>Macri and Vidal</h2> <p>With Macri and Vidal running next to each other, the question is whether Macri will end up being a burden against Vidal&#8217;s re-election odds or if the Governor can help lift Macri&#8217;s presidential vote count in the province. Although the ruling coalition is expected to get less votes than the opposition in Buenos Aires at the presidential level, Macri desperately needs to avoid a landslide in the 16-million people behemoth district.</p> <p>Vidal&#8217;s face in the <em>Juntos por el Cambio</em> ballot can help with that, although there&#8217;s still the possibility of ballot splitting for those who like Vidal but not Macri — if they remember to bring their scissors to the voting booth.</p> <p>In the last few days, videos went viral on social networks showing how Macri is hidden in the folded ballots distributed by <em>Juntos por el Cambio</em> activists in Buenos Aires. &#8220;I&#8217;ve been touring the province and I couldn&#8217;t find a single Macri billboard. Everyone hides under the figure of Vidal because they know that Macri today has a brutal level of rejection,&#8221; Sergio Massa, who leads the <em>Frente de Todos</em> Buenos Aires province House of Representatives ticket next to Alberto Fernández and Kicillof, said this week.</p> <p><iframe title="Aseguran que Vidal y los intendentes reparten boletas con Macri escondido" width="1778" height="1000" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/PiveYZDr5rk?feature=oembed" frameborder="0" allow="accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture" allowfullscreen></iframe></p> <p>A few hours before leading an event in Córdoba province (the second largest arena after Buenos Aires) Macri was all over Twitter with messages backing Vidal&#8217;s campaign.</p> <blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-width="550" data-dnt="true"> <p lang="und" dir="ltr">❤️ <a href="https://t.co/PLVlhwgmTT">pic.twitter.com/PLVlhwgmTT</a></p> <p>&mdash; Mauricio Macri (@mauriciomacri) <a href="https://twitter.com/mauriciomacri/status/1159181966715117570?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">August 7, 2019</a></p></blockquote> <p><script async src="https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script></p> <h2><strong>Higher polarization</strong></h2> <p>If at the national level there is talk of polarization, this trend is taken to the extreme in BA province. The options seem to be limited to Vidal and Kicillof.</p> <p>&#8220;The main difference with 2015 is that there is no third force to prevent polarization like Felipe Solá (Sergio Massa&#8217;s candidate) back then”, political consultant Rosendo Fraga told <em>The Essential</em>. Solá, who won 19 percent of the votes in the last provincial elections, joined the <em>Frente de Todos</em> alongside Massa.</p> <p>A third option is now represented by Roberto Lavagna&#8217;s candidate, Eduardo &#8220;Bali&#8221; Bucca, mostly unknown in the province. The Federal Consensus Front could have had a more competitive candidate like Margarita Stolbizer, but she declined the offer to run. Stolbizer is not only in good terms with Vidal, but also attracts a portion of the electorate that votes for Vidal and would not endorse Peronism.</p> <p>Unlike Macri, Vidal is unlikely to lose right-wing votes. Due to a judicial ruling, libertarian economist José Luis Espert will not have a gubernatorial candidate in the province.  Despertar, the front led by Espert, is the right-wing force that is expected to attract voters disenchanted with Macri&#8217;s economic policies.</p> <p>The other conservative force, Nos – the front led by former Customs chief Juan José Gómez Centurión, has a gubernatorial nominee but it seems unlikely that he will succeed in surpassing the 1.5 electoral threshold to participate in the October general elections. Gómez Centurión has voters among the military and anti-abortion militants, who may end up endorsing Vidal’s ticket. The governor has already spoken out against abortion and said she does not consider herself a feminist.</p> <h2><strong>Running from behind</strong></h2> <p>Sources close to Vidal concede that the governor runs from behind against Kicillof in the polls. Some speak of an advantage of up to seven points, although others put it much closer.</p> <p>How do you explain that the politician with the best image in the country and the country’s business leaders’ bet to replace Macri now risks losing the elections? Because of her loyalty to Macri, explains sociologist Paula Canelo, who recently published the book <em>¿Cambiamos?</em> (Have we changed?).</p> <p>&#8220;Vidal would have been a very good candidate for president, but Macri wouldn&#8217;t budge,” Canelo said. “She has been questioned for her administration in the province, but what may end up sinking her political career is her party discipline,” she added.</p> <p>At the beginning of the year, the governor sought to separate the elections in the province from the national ones, but Macri opposed the move, hoping Vidal would lift his vote count.  &#8220;For Vidal it would have been better to bring the election forward for one simple reason: she would have had the Peronist party divided,&#8221; Fraga, for his part, explained.</p> <h2><strong>Ladies First</strong></h2> <p>Although former President Fernández de Kirchner is seconding Alberto Fernández on the Frente de Todos ballot and Vidal competes as governor in the coalition led by Macri, the two women seem to be the real owners of the votes in BA province, where the mother of all battles is set to be staged.</p> <p>That doesn&#8217;t mean it&#8217;s going to be a women&#8217;s duel, warns Fraga. &#8220;On the contrary, Vidal bets on splitting the ballot: she is hoping that part of the Peronist electorate that votes for Fernández for president may also vote her for governor.”</p> <p>Macri has other plans. The president will close the campaign today with Vidal and his cousin, Vicente López Mayor Jorge Macri, in a rally in that city. He headed another rally yesterday in Córdoba, one of the provinces that granted him the triumph in the 2015 runoff.</p> <p>During the last few days, Macri hardened his speech, accusing his detractors of being corrupt and thieves. &#8220;They&#8217;re taking the campaign to the brink,&#8221; Canelo says.</p> <p>Fernández officially closed the campaign in Rosario, along with Fernández de Kirchner and the Peronist governors. It was a demonstration of support and a call for the wider society to join forces against Macri.</p> <p>Kicillof is set to close his campaign today in the district of Merlo along with the former president, whereas Alberto Fernández will go to Córdoba in the last attempt to attract an elusive electorate.</p> <p>Macri&#8217;s and Fernández&#8217;s attention is focused on Buenos Aires as it concentrates 37 percent of the national electorate, but also in Córdoba, Santa Fe and the City of Buenos Aires, as those districts alone contribute around 25 percent of the national electoral roll, and could compensate for results in the province.</p> <p>

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Luciana Bertoia

Luciana Bertoia is a journalist specialized in judicial, political and human rights issues. She has published in Ámbito Financiero, Página/12, the Buenos Aires Herald and the International Justice Tribune.