Although the campaign only starts legally on August 16, we can say that the first television debate between the main candidates for governor of Rio de Janeiro actually inaugurates the Rio de Janeiro electoral race.
The event was attended by Governor Cláudio Castro (PL), leader in the polls; federal deputy Marcelo Freixo (PSB), until now the main opponent against the reelection of the state representative; the former mayor of Niterói Rodrigo Neves (PDT), who seeks to break the Castro and Freixo polarization; and sniper Paulo Ganime, of the New Party.
The debate was lively and, as is often the case on such occasions, arouses passionate defenses and deep rejections in those who have already chosen a side. But, in addition to these immediate reactions, it is necessary to analyze the impacts of an electoral debate in three dimensions: the format of the event; the repercussion; and the context of the election.
Regarding the format, with several candidates (four, in this case), we must take into account that no candidate gets it right from start to finish, except for exceptions such as Lula and Garotinho; and also that few candidates are really a disaster, as was Bolsonaro in the only debate he was present in in 2018 or his son fainting in 2016.
The balance of this first debate, in this dimension, is that nobody was a disaster and at the same time nobody rocked the performance.
Stability in the scenario, therefore.
Regarding the repercussion, it is worth noting that there are two layers of audience: those who watch it live, which is a more politicized avant-garde, on the left and on the right; and the general public, who will receive the impact of the debate on social networks in the following days.
In the left bubble, Rodrigo was winning the debate until the unfortunate one-two with Ganime. Rodrigo is less well known than Freixo in the progressive public and took advantage of the balls raised by the federal deputy and the governor about Niterói, a city he governed and which is very well evaluated. Until he decided to talk about black blocks with the New and lost much of the sympathy it had won.
Freixo consolidates this sector when he talks about his biography – professor, human rights defender, qualified parliamentarian – and also about his relationship with Lula. And even more so when he criticizes Castro, especially on the subject of secret positions. And he loses when he attacks Rodrigo and when he proves to be too broad, when he highlights the front he set up with the Liberals. In this aspect of alliances, there is a demand for proposals from the left that compensate for the presence of the right on the ticket.
Castro, on the other hand, came in not to lose a rout and was successful.
In part, because of an old rhetorical strategy that is to list accomplishments, whether or not they are effective in real life. In part because he was pressed less than he could have been by his opponents. His great victory was to avoid nationalization. At no time was he asked about his relationship with Bolsonaro.
As for the repercussion with the general public, the three candidates leave the debate with moments of strength to select and circulate in small videos and also with hesitations and slips of the opponents. The impact of this will depend on a good social media strategy and the campaign on radio and television.
Finally, the election for the government of the State of Rio is open.
Castro leads, but with the machine and the number of parties and mayors that support him, it was expected that his lead would be greater at the beginning of the campaign. Freixo has an unprecedented front of left and right parties and has the firm support of Lula and has maintained a consistency in voting intentions that makes it viable. And Rodrigo gained capillarity with an also unprecedented alliance between the municipalities of Rio and Niterói.
In this sense, the debate was a final moment to test the strategies that have been developed in the pre-campaign and that will gain the general public from August 16th. Castro with the motto of dialogue, showing his achievements and fleeing nationalization; Freixo investing in his biography and in the polarization with Lula; Rodrigo betting on his administrative experience and the strength of the city halls of Rio and Niterói. We await further research to better assess the impacts of the debate and these strategies.
*Josué Medeiros is a political scientist and professor at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ).
** This is an opinion article. The author’s view does not necessarily express the newspaper’s editorial line Brazil de facto.
Source: BdF Rio de Janeiro
Editing: Mariana Pitasse