The bombast plays well with supporters, but has frightened former allies and has allowed opponents to paint him as divisive and heavy-handed.
Lasso is running a distant second to the president, but believes he can force Correa into a runoff where he would face a unified opposition.
The 57-year-old candidate says he wants to reintroduce reasoned political discourse, cut taxes, woo foreign investors and crack down on crime by hiring 20,000 more police.
Standing at a monument to Ecuador’s founding fathers earlier this week, Lasso released pigeons and said he would “set the nation free” from Correa.
“We’re fighting to recover democracy and liberty for all 14.5 million Ecuadoreans,” he said. “Ecuadoreans have already decided that they want hope.”
But first, Lasso has to survive Sunday. Correa can win the race outright in two ways: by garnering at least 50 percent of the vote, or by winning 40 percent with a 10-point difference over his nearest rival. Failing that, he must face the runner-up April 7.
Complicating the electoral math for Lasso is the fact that the opposition vote is split among six candidates, including former president Lucio Gutierrez, who was overthrown in 2005, and Alvaro Noboa, a banana baron who has run for the presidency five times.
A Feb. 4 poll by Ecuador’s CIEES shows Correa with 56.3 percent of the vote, followed by Lasso with 20.6 percent and Gutierrez with 5.8 percent. Other polls show a slightly tighter race, but almost all have Correa winning in the first round. Lasso claims the polls have been bought by the presidency “to win a psychological war that they know they have lost.”
But even business-minded reform candidates are playing by Correa’s rules. One of Lasso’s flagship proposals during the campaign was to increase the administration’s monthly cash subsidy that goes to 1.9 million elderly, poor and disabled from $35 to $50.
Correa seized the idea and pushed a bill through Congress that financed the increase by taxing banking profits — a move seen as a direct attack on Lasso. Noboa has tried to one-up them both by offering to increase the subsidy to $100 if he’s elected.
Comparisons between Correa and Venezuela’s Chávez are easy to make: both are charismatic leftists who have used referendums to overhaul their constitutions, expand control of the state and clamp down on dissent.
But unlike Chávez, who won the right to indefinite reelection, Correa insists he’s leaving at the end of a new term in 2017.
Correa’s most dedicated supporters don’t want to consider life without him.
Jorge Pozo, an oil engineer, said people like Correa only come once in a lifetime, and the nation needs him.
“If he wanted to stay longer, I would support him,” he said. “I know that it might not be very democratic but it’s the truth.”