Candidate Watch: Where they stand

The opposition campaign for the 2012 Presidential election is going to heat up faster than an overworked Planta Centro generator. To help guide the discussion, we thought it would be fun to break the field down for you, as it currently stands.

First Tier

Henrique Capriles

Primero Justicia, Governor of Miranda

Pro: Smart, disciplined politician. Effective governor. Non-polarizing figure NiNis respond well to. Young. Excellent poll numbers in his home state. Virtually endorsed by Caracas Chronicles, although we’re not quite there yet.

Con: Not the most exciting speaker. Born with a silver spoon in his mouth. Can come across as cantankerous rather than optimistic.

The deal: Frontrunner by some distance. Guy most likely to unify the opposition, rally NiNis and beat Chávez. Nomination is his to lose.

Leopoldo López

Voluntad Popular, Former Mayor of Chacao

Pro: Born talker, fearsome campaigner, could sell ice to an eskimo. Beautiful smile. Smart. Young. The ladies love him.

Con: Can’t run, barring an unlikely CIDH-ex-machina solution. Not a team player, worrying caudillistic tendencies. Thin resumé. Stinks of Cisneros money.

The deal: Could gain the lead if there were a change in his legal standing.

Antonio Ledezma

Alianza Bravo Pueblo, Mayor of Greater Caracas

Pro: Tireless politician, a darling of the radical opposition who can also attract centrist votes. Good at the old-style populist harangue. Adaptable, quick thinking Pol.

Con: Adeco roots. Comando National de la Resistencia branches. Strong whiff of the jurassic about him. Chavismo would assail him for being CAP’s dauphin.

The deal: Only member of the old guard with a real chance.

Second Tier

María Corina Machado

Independent, founder of Súmate and National Assembly Member

Pro: Excellent public speaker. Independent from party machinations. Seems to be laying the groundwork for a proper campaign organization. Very smart. Extravagantly competent. Easy on the eyes = lots of free media.

Con: Thin resumé. No party machinery. Visited Pedro Carmona at Miraflores. Visited George W. Bush at the White House. Upper-crust accent and body-language may not play well in Venezuela’s barrios and rural areas. Faces deep-seated prejudice against beautiful women in positions of power.

The deal: She’s really on tier 1.5. She should be doing better than she is, and with the right amount of pixie dust, she could run away with the thing.

Pablo Pérez

Un Nuevo Tiempo, governor of Zulia.

Pro: Young, telegenic, governor of a huge state. Does not carry 2002 baggage. Non-controversial, easygoing.

Con: Zuliano – the nation has never elected one, and hasn’t come even close to doing so. Unknown outside his base. Can’t even unify his own party. A younger, hunkier, less experienced version of his mentor, Manuel Rosales.

The deal: Would get clobbered against Chávez, serious only because UNT has a proper national machine.

Manuel Rosales

Un Nuevo Tiempo, former governor of Zulia, former mayor of Maracaibo

Pro: Name recognition. His wife is the mayor of the nation’s second-largest city. Continues to exert control over UNT party machinery.

Con: Barred from running. Doesn’t live in Venezuela. Despised in large chunks of the opposition. His own protegé is also running. Dull. Stupid. Possibly corrupt. No idea how to appeal to people outside his base. Humiliated once before already. Oh and, Zuliano (see Perez, Pablo).

The deal: Terrifyingly, could imaginably rally the post-adeco, neo-adeco universe behind him and walk away with the nomination. Would be first-tier if he could persuade Perez to bow out.

Wildcards & Kingmakers

Lorenzo Mendoza

CEO, Empresas Polar

Pro: Outsider. Young. Telegenic. Smart. Managerial profile. Made of money.

Con: Blood far too blue for what’s coming. Zero political experience. Zero political machine. Fat cat.

The deal: A cypher. Could totally scramble the race if he decides to spend big. Has been selling us beer and mayonnaise for years, so why not presidents?

Henri Falcón

PPT, Governor of Lara

Pro: Brilliant. Born pol. Wildly popular in Lara. Man of the people. Untainted by terrible Oppo brand.

Con: Badly distrusted by right-wing opposition. Too far left to win a primary. Former chavista ties make him ariascardenas-y.

The deal: Still one of the most intriguing figures in Venezuelan politics. Probably won’t run.

Cecilia García Arocha

President of the Universidad Central de Venezuela

Pro: Hardened veteran of trench-warfare against Chavista encroachment. Loves a mike.

Con: Trained as a dentist. Largely unknown outside middle class Caracas/academic circles.

The Deal: The hard-charging leader of the fight to save university autonomy is a favorite of middle-class anti-Chávez activists, especially in Caracas. Can she broaden her appeal?

No Hopers

Henry Ramos Allup

Secretary General of Acción Democrática.

Pro: Brilliant.

Con: Evil.

The deal: Equal parts Kissinger and Rasputin; even the U.S. embassy finds him appalling. Thrives behind the scenes. Outlandish in front of the cameras. Awkward, surly in front of actual voters. His tight grip on what remains of the legendary AD machine makes him a factor.

Would take votes from: Ledezma, Rosales, Perez.

Cesar Pérez Vivas

Copei, governor of Táchira 

Pro: Tachirense. Has a real base of support.

Con: Dictionary definition of a fourth republic dinosaur. No name recognition or support outside his state.

The deal: Campaign = Ego Trip.

Would take votes from: Capriles, MCM.

Henrique Salas Römer

Proyecto Venezuela, former governor of Carabobo

Pro: Image as a pragmatist. Smart guy with a proven – if regional – party machine.

Con: Massively over-grown ego. Way past his prime. Largely absent from the national debate. Messianic streak. Has already lost to Chávez.

The deal: Another of these old pols who just can’t give up the dream no matter how desperately slim their chances are.

Would take votes from: His son, maybe.

Oswaldo Alvarez Paz

Not in Education, Employment or Training

Pro: Ummmm…I’m thinking . . . ummm … ermmm … there has to be something … does “pro-business” count?

Con: Right wing extremist. Lazy campaigner. Positively Paleozoic. Was past his prime even in 1993. So out of touch with normal Venezuelans it makes your eyes water. Thinks having his picture taken with Luis Alfonso Dávila is a good idea. And he’s from Zulia, to boot…

The deal: Former enfant terrible of the ancien regime, yet still a part of it. Briefly jailed last year for talking crazy, which is the only reason he’s (marginally) relevant now.

Would take (few, very few) votes from: Capriles, Ledezma, Machado.