This time, the gloves are off. Capriles has accused Maduro of lying about Chávez’s health and using his death to maximize political gain. He has also accused the military of being part of the government’s get-out-the-vote machine, and suggested ruling party officials are going to tamper with voting machines.
Vicente Díaz, the only opposition member of the National Electoral Council, told the Agence France-Presse news service that the vote itself would be fair, but that the unequal footing of the two campaigns makes the election “profoundly antidemocratic.”
“We don’t have the economic resources, the institutions or the ministries,” Capriles told the crowd. “We don’t have public workers that we can force to attend our political rallies. But we do have hope, faith and courage to take this country forward.”
Capriles caught global attention in 2012 when he won an opposition primary that gave him the unenviable task of facing Chávez at the polls. The race took him on a grueling tour to villages that had never seen a presidential candidate before. Even so, he lost, and his decision to accept defeat rather than protest the results, brought rebukes from many of his allies. Two months later, Capriles defended his job as governor of Miranda against Elías Jaua, Chávez vice president and handpicked contender.
Chávez’s allies swept 20 out of 23 governors’ posts in that election, but Capriles kept his job.
As the presidential race was heating up, Capriles reminded voters that in 2008 he had beat another Chávez vice president, Diosdado Cabello, for the Miranda post. And he issued a challenge to then-Vice President Maduro.
“I’ve done-in two vice presidents,” Capriles said, sliding a finger across his throat. “Send me the third one.”
Born in Caracas in 1972 to a family of émigrés — his grandparents were Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust — Capriles went to law school in Venezuela before briefly attending Columbia University in New York. In 1998, he ran for congress and became the country’s youngest speaker of the house at 25. That same year, Chávez became president and won the right to dissolve the legislature. Capriles was out of a job.
But by 2000, he had rebounded, becoming the mayor of Baruta — part of greater Caracas. In the wake of a 2002 coup that briefly ousted Chávez, a mob surrounded the Cuban embassy to drum out government officials taking refuge there. When Chávez returned to power days later, the courts accused Capriles of abetting the mob and not calling on the Baruta police. Capriles maintained his innocence but spent 120 days in jail. The charges were eventually dropped.
Ramírez, with ORC consulting, has known Capriles for more than a decade. He said the wiry runner can be so “pensive” that he often seems standoffish. And he knows how to learn from mistakes.
This time around, Capriles has shuffled top advisors, is relying more on his opposition allies, and has been far more combative, he said.
“So maybe he doesn’t bat a home run, but makes it to second or third base before he’s out,” Ramírez said. “He’s going to lose fighting, not because he gave up.”