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Turnout may be a crucial factor on April 14.
Opposition supporters are still recovering from the double disappointment of losing to Chavez last year, and then taking a thrashing in regional elections in December where the ruling party won all but three of the country’s 23 states.
So Capriles’ first challenge will be to get out the 6.6 million people who voted for him in the October election - a 44 percent share of the total.
Although Chavez won comfortably, it was the best showing by an opposition candidate in four presidential elections against Chavez. Voter participation hit 80 percent, a record for Venezuela.
The opposition will hope government supporters, though generally expected to follow the late Chavez’s instructions to vote for Maduro, might do so with less enthusiasm and in fewer numbers than last year.
“You don’t have to be very clever to see that Maduro is the favorite,” said local pollster Luis Vicente de Leon. “Capriles’ big challenge is to overcome apathy and the feeling (within the opposition) that nothing can change the result.”
Wherever Capriles goes, it is impossible to avoid the influence of Chavez, whose image and name appear to have become even more ubiquitous in death.
In Maturin, a stencil of his signature could be seen on the side of the stage where the opposition leader spoke. On a wall nearby, a slogan read: “Chavez lives! The revolution continues!” in fresh paint.
“This is a tough and surreal election,” mused one Capriles aide. “How do you beat a ghost?”