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SAO PAULO – A leading right-wing presidential candidate in Brazil appeared to backtrack Thursday on his initial decision to skip all seven remaining debates before the Oct. 7 election, saying that he may participate in three.
Earlier, an attorney for Congressman Jair Bolsonaro said that the candidate would not attend the remaining debates because they did not add to the race.
After a campaign event in the countryside of Sao Paulo state, the congressman later said he could not "lose contact with the people."
"I can't be in a studio, there are 40 days to the election," Bolsonaro told journalists. He said he wouldn't attend all the debates, but his "idea" was to make an appearance at some.
The public vacillation comes after a poll showed a spike in the number of Brazilians who wouldn't vote for Bolsonaro under any circumstances following two recent TV debates.
Bolsonaro's performances were loved by hardcore fans, but were criticized by moderate politicians and voters who he needs to win over.
The congressman was only mildly targeted on both occasions by seven opponents.
A Datafolha poll published Wednesday shows jailed former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva with support among 39 percent of those surveyed, but he is likely to be barred from seeking office because of a corruption conviction. He denies any wrongdoing and was not allowed to participate in the debates despite leading the polls.
Bolsonaro is running second at 19 percent, which is far ahead of former Sao Paulo Mayor Fernando Haddad, who is da Silva's likely replacement and choice for vice president.
The same Datafolha poll said 39 percent of voters would never choose Bolsonaro. It also showed that 43 percent of women wouldn't support him, a major concern for the congressman in a country where females comprise 52 percent of the electorate.
During both debates, Bolsonaro argued that free market policies, not the government, should regulate how much women are paid.
The Datafolha poll, which has margin of error of 2 percentage points, was based on interviews with 8,433 people between Aug. 20 and 21.
Regardless of Bolsonaro's decision to bow out of the debates, right-leaning Geraldo Alckmin said Wednesday that all candidates want to face the congressman in a run-off because they will be more likely to win.
The Datafolha poll showed Bolsonaro could lose a likely run-off on Oct. 28 to centrist Marina Silva, left-leaning Ciro Gomes and Alckmin, who is polling at less than 10 percent.
The poll also projected that Bolsonaro would still beat left-leaning Haddad in such a scenario even if da Silva leaves the race and endorses him as candidate.
Free airtime on TV and radio given to each candidate from Sep. 1 to Oct. 4 may also play role.
On Thursday, the country's electoral court said Bolsonaro will barely be heard or seen on programs based on his electoral coalition's representation in Brazil's lower house.
Bolsonaro's free airtime will total eight seconds, compared to 5 minutes and 32 seconds for Alckmin, and 2 minutes and 23 seconds for da Silva or Haddad.
Free airtime has proven decisive in other Brazilian presidential elections, but analysts have wondered what impact it will have as more voters rely on social media for news.