Far behind, opposition presidential candidate links himself to popular Brazilian president

SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil's opposition presidential candidate is plummeting so fast in the polls that he's running television ads linking himself to the nation's popular president — who backs his rival.

TV spots show Jose Serra with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva as a voice that sounds much like the president's intones, "Serra and Lula, two men of history. Two experienced leaders."

Only problem: Silva wants to make history with his own candidate, Dilma Rousseff, his former chief of staff.

Leaders of Silva's Workers Party said Friday they would file a complaint before the Brazilian Supreme Electoral Court, which enforces election laws.

"I think it's odd for a candidate to try, in a way that is often pathetic, to link his name to President Lula," Rousseff told a meeting of Brazilian journalists in Rio de Janeiro on Thursday. "He's opposed Lula's government during his entire time in office."

Serra — a centrist from the Brazilian Social Democracy Party who was trounced by Silva in the 2002 presidential election — argues that Rousseff is taking undue credit for Brazil's advances during Silva's two terms. He has a campaign jingle that urges her to "take her hands off of Lula's work."

Polls show that Serra has good reason for unorthodox campaign moves.

A survey released by the Ibope research institute this week showed Rousseff with a commanding 43 percent to 32 percent lead, up from 39-34 two weeks ago. The Aug. 12-15 poll of 2,506 voters has a margin of error of 2 percentage points.

Some analysts say Rousseff could garner more than 50 percent of the vote on Oct. 3, avoiding a runoff election.

With Silva's approval ratings hovering near 80 percent, it makes sense for Serra to boldly link himself to his old rival.

But Brazil's electoral law prohibits political candidates from appearing in a TV or radio spot with members of a rival party or coalition.

Analysts say Serra is trying to distance Rousseff from Silva' golden touch — a difficult task since Silva is campaigning hard for his candidate.

Serra, who is widely seen as an academic elitist lacking charisma, also wants to lure votes from Brazil's poor masses by broadcasting images of himself standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Silva, Brazil's first working-class president.

Few think either strategy will work.

"Serra should have more charisma at this point. He is so experienced and has been campaigning on TV since the 1980s," said David Fleischer, a political scientist at the University of Brasilia. "Of all the candidates, he is most experienced and should be a better communicator. But why isn't he? Just part of his nature, I guess."