Caracas, Venezuela — Playing basketball with locals and shuttling between slums, Venezuela’s opposition leader, Henrique Capriles, exuded youth and energy in last year’s punishing presidential race.
Yet he ended up exhausted, quaffing Red Bull to keep going - and ultimately devastated at his loss to Hugo Chavez.
Now Capriles, 40, has to do it all again.
The governor of Miranda state, a centrist who sees Brazil’s mix of economic and social policies as the model to follow, is the overwhelming favorite to represent the opposition Democratic Unity coalition in an election following Chavez’s death from cancer.
He will face Chavez’s preferred successor, Nicolas Maduro.
If beating Chavez - whose legendary charisma, connection with the poor and oil-financed state resources made him near-invincible - was a Herculean challenge, defeating his anointed heir in a highly emotional atmosphere may be just as hard.
Some are even comparing Chavez’s death with the passing of Eva Peron, Argentina’s adored first lady whose 1952 death reverberates and still influences politics decades later.
Capriles, a lean and sports-loving lawyer who is a regular at Caracas half-marathons, won a creditable 44 percent of the vote last year, the opposition’s best showing against Chavez in a presidential vote.
FACING ‘CHAVEZ’S GHOST’
Aware of his single status, women screamed at him like a pop star at every campaign stop, many shouting “marry me!” Polls at the time showed him more popular than any of the president’s allies.
But Chavez’s naming of Maduro as his heir apparent has imbued the former bus driver, who is now Venezuela’s caretaker president, with some of his aura and transformed his profile. One recent poll forecast 50 percent of votes for Maduro, versus 36 percent for Capriles.