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“There is a possibility of winning - though I have everything against me,” Capriles told Reuters, pumped up but also realistic after a convoy parade in southern Bolivar state where over-eager supporters even pulled open his shirt.
Maduro has not only Chavez’s powerful personal endorsement - in an emotional last public speech before his death - but also the power and cash of the state behind his campaign.
That allows him to appear at will to the entire nation across all broadcast media in so-called “cadena” or “chain” shows that foes see as a blatant abuse of power.
As well as benefiting from the emotion over Chavez’s death, Maduro is basking in the goodwill generated among the poor by the multiple social welfare “missions” that were such an important part of his former boss’s 14-year rule.
Foes say he also has behind-the-scenes support from communist-led Cuba, where Chavez was treated before his death and which receives more than 100,000 barrels per day of oil from Venezuela.
“We’re fighting against a president-candidate, all the oil dollars, the public institutions, the Cuban government and of course the myth they want to create around Chavez,” complained Capriles’ campaign director, Carlos Ocariz.
Opponents say Maduro and other senior government figures are receiving guidance directly from Cuban President Raul Castro, as well as allowing Cuban advisers to wield influence in Venezuela’s military and intelligence services.
Though the time frame is shorter, Capriles is using the same strategy as in 2012: a punishing schedule of visits across two states per day, mixing rallies with media interviews and meetings with local politicians and residents.
His political and rhetorical thrust is different though.
At every turn, Capriles baits Maduro, 50, referring to him only as “Nicolas” and seeking to depict him as an incompetent puppet of Cuba’s communist government trying to imitate Chavez.