At LatAm’s biggest rodeo, Brazilians don’t believe the polls

BARRETOS, Brazil — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro traveled to Latin America’s largest rodeo — a bubble of staunch support — to connect with rural voters ahead of the October vote.

Friday night, the far-right leader rode a horse while holding a cowboy hat in his outstretched arm and greeting supporters draped in Brazilian flags as his campaign jingle played “The People’s Captain.” He joked with them and they prayed together for the future of the country. All the major polls show that Bolsonaro is far behind former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, but you wouldn’t know it from the scene at the rodeo in the municipality of Barretos, in the state of Sao Paulo.

“This event is already part of our history. Moved by agribusiness, by the work of men and women in rural areas, Brazil is projecting itself onto the world stage,” Bolsonaro told the crowd, who chanted the word “legend” in reference to him. “Our motto is God, Country, Family and Freedom. Yee-hooo!”

The multi-day spectacle had tens of thousands of attendees who were predominantly white and middle class. Many came decked out in the national colors of green and canary that Bolsonaro has transformed into symbols of support for his government. The packed arena roared as Bolsonaro was introduced to the tune of DJ Snake’s and Lil Jon’s song “Turn Down for What,” which his supporters have used in hundreds of videos to portray him as defiant.

Outside, a salesman sold towels with the faces of Bolsonaro and da Silva of the left-wing Workers’ Party, and displayed a sign stating how much of each candidate had been bought. Hardly any with da Silva had been sold, and those in attendance saw it as a signal that their candidate would win the vote. Elsewhere in Brazil, such towel sales leaderboards point in the opposite direction.

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Despite da Silva’s lead in the polls, a dozen farmers, ranchers and rodeo fans in Barretos told The Associated Press that Bolsonaro doesn’t need to reach many moderate voters, which da Silva is openly trying to do — most notably, with his selection of a centre-right rival turned running mate.

“The last time the polls didn’t say Bolsonaro would win,” said Gualter Silveira, 57, who owns a small farm. “It will be the same this year. I see him going everywhere. Lula doesn’t. How can Bolsonaro be left behind?”

Businessman Daniel Tales, 43, wore a Brazilian flag as a scarf and said he felt goosebumps on his mustache after seeing Bolsonaro in person. The proud cowboy from the neighboring state of Minas Gerais said he believes his candidate will need a runoff against da Silva to secure a second term.

“But he doesn’t have to change anything. He doesn’t have to do anything else or less,” Tales said. “He has a strong personality, he is the man of the moment, he came to make a revolution.”

When asked how Bolsonaro could get undecided voters on his side, he replied: “He has to be himself. That’s all.”

Four years ago, Bolsonaro won almost 74% of the vote in Barretos in the second round of voting against Fernando Haddad, the Workers’ Party candidate after da Silva was declared ineligible. The president is getting a lot of love in the region for professing conservative values ​​and defending farmers, as well as for establishing a National Rodeo Day in 2020 and relaxing the rules for such events in Brazil. Friday wasn’t his first time at the Barretos rodeo; he ran as president in 2019 and three other times during his career as a legislator to aid his son’s bid for Congress.

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This time, Bolsonaro brought with him cabinet ministers, politicians running for office and some business leaders whose properties were searched by police earlier this week for their alleged participation in a private chat group with comments about a possible coup and military involvement in politics. . One of them, Luciano Hang, was wearing his usual yellow shirt and green pants, doing his best to excite the crowd.

Bolsonaro and his allies have routinely mocked the polls, sometimes saying that the president will not only win the election, but will do so in the first round without the need for a second round. They say a more accurate way to gauge the upcoming outcome is to look at the turnout at Bolsonaro rallies.

Bolsonaro supporters who spoke to the AP said they are ready to heed his call and take to the streets for Independence Day on Sept. 7. Some politicians and analysts have expressed concern that it could turn violent.

“See you on Independence Day,” Emcee Cuiabano Lima said as Bolsonaro exited the rodeo arena. Lima also said da Silva is a thief who belongs in prison, and the crowd chanted in agreement.

Da Silva, who ruled from 2003 to 2010 and is commonly known as Lula, was barred from participating in 2018 after being jailed on corruption and money laundering convictions, which the Supreme Court later overturned on the grounds that the judge in the case been biased. That paved the way for him to run in 2022.

Silvana Cunha, 47, is concerned about the possibility of da Silva returning to power. She works with livestock farmers and says Bolsonaro has improved her life thanks to higher beef prices during his reign. While she is confident he will win in October, she acknowledges the challenges he faces.

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“It took time to organize everything to our liking,” says Cunha, a staunch Catholic who has attended the Barretos rodeo for years. “It doesn’t matter who wins, it will be very difficult. We need a strong hand. Getting the country back on track for growth after this pandemic is a huge task. We have to be very careful. Or we will get a setback or an evolution.”

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