Scandals doing little to dent massive lead for Brazil's ruling party presidential candidate

SAO PAULO (AP) — Two front-page scandals and increasingly bitter attacks by her rival are not slowing down Brazil's ruling party presidential candidate. A poll released Tuesday shows the leftist candidate has widened her lead over a rival who was once running even with her.

The Workers Party candidate Dilma Rousseff now has a 51-26 percent lead over opposition candidate Jose Serra, according to the Sensus polling institute.

Analysts say the immense popularity of her political mentor, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has swamped any concerns over revelations that members of Rousseff's party illegally accessed tax records of Serra's daughter and allegations one of her former top aides was involved in a kickback scheme.

Late Tuesday, the government took strong measures to stamp out both scandals — saying tax records would be further secured and that an investigation into the corruption allegations was opened.

Analysts, however, said neither situation was likely to have much affect on voters.

"These scandals are going to have a marginal impact, at least the allegations that have surfaced as of now," said Carlos Lopes, an analyst with the Brasilia-based Santafe Ideias consulting firm.

Serra had been in a technical tie with Rousseff as late as mid-May, but she has steadily pulled away since then.

The latest poll interviewed in person 2,000 people in 136 counties across Brazil between Sept. 10 and Sept. 12. The margin of error is 2.2 percentage points.

The polls indicate that Rousseff may manage something that even Silva could not do: achieve a victory in the first-round on Oct. 3 without being forced into a runoff required if no candidate wins an outright majority.

Rousseff, 62, who would be Brazil's first woman president, is an economist by training and has never held elected office. She served as Silva's energy minister from 2003 to 2005, then as his chief of staff.

Nicknamed the "Iron Lady," Rousseff as a young woman was part of an armed guerrilla group that resisted the nation's 1964-85 military dictatorship. In 1970, she was arrested, and for three years was imprisoned and tortured.

Serra — a 68-year-old centrist from the Brazilian Social Democracy Party who was badly beaten by Silva in the 2002 presidential election — is a former congressman and governor of Sao Paulo state.

In a televised debate on Sunday, he dropped his usual civil tone and aggressively questioned Rousseff about revelations that Workers Party members last year accessed the tax records of Serra's daughter and other members of his party. Rousseff's backers argue it is common to leak tax records in Brazil and said there were no political motivations because the violations took place long before campaigning began.

The Brazilian magazine Veja this week also reported that a consulting firm run by the son of a former top aide to Rousseff — Erenice Guerra — collected money for obtaining access to government officials for companies that won lucrative government contracts.

In Brasilia on Tuesday, Brazil's Justice Minister Luiz Paulo Barreto said that federal police were opening an investigation into the allegations against Guerra's son — but not the minister.

"What matters now is to get to the true, concrete facts," he said.

In regard to the leak of tax information, Finance Minister Guido Mantega said that new security measures would be implemented, including giving only government workers with investigative powers the clearance to view such records.

Guerra said she and her son would release all their financial records to prove they are innocent of wrongdoing. In a statement, she also said she supported an investigation of all the allegations in Veja's report, which she called a "smear campaign."

Regardless of the investigation's outcome, analysts said it is unlikely to have much of an impact on voters.

"The scandals are not going to get any traction before the election," said Riordan Roett, director of Latin American studies at Johns Hopkins University. "The Brazilian public is kind of immune to these scandals, there are so many of them over time."