At Chávez's birthplace, Maduro vows to win Venezuela vote
Venezuelan acting President Nicolás Maduro made a pilgrimage to late socialist leader Hugo Chávez's birthplace and pledged to win the April 14 election in his honor.
"We regard Chavez as our father. He marked our life, that's why we came here to make an oath in the land of his birth that we will never let him down," Maduro, 50, said in the village of Sabaneta where his former boss was born.
"I am going to be president of this country because he ordered it," Maduro added at the launch of his formal election campaign before the oil-producing South American nation's presidential poll.
Opinion polls give Maduro, a former bus driver who rose to be Chavez's foreign minister and vice president, a formidable lead of between 11 and 20 percentage points over opposition challenger Henrique Capriles.
Tuesday marked the start of a lightning 10-day campaign period, although both candidates already had started trying to court voters. The ballot will be the country's first without Chavez after more than a dozen during his 14-year rule.
The burly and mustachioed Maduro is benefiting from the personal blessing of Chavez, who named him as his preferred heir three months before dying of cancer on March 5.
That endorsement, in Chavez's last public speech, stopped in-fighting over the succession within the ruling Socialist Party and transformed Maduro's status in the eyes of his mentor's passionate supporters.
"He is the only candidate who guarantees national independence and can achieve the historic objectives that were set by our commander," said Cynthiq Nouel, a 29-year-old resident of Sabaneta.
Maduro also has a well-financed state apparatus behind him, working-class credentials that play well with loyal 'Chavista' supporters, and the goodwill of millions who have benefited from Chavez's oil-funded social welfare projects, or "missions." Venezuela has the world's largest oil reserves.
Capriles is a centrist state governor who wants to roll back the economic nationalizations and political polarization of the Chavez era in favor of a Brazilian-style model of free markets with strong welfare spending.
He was launching his campaign in the oil-producing eastern state of Monagas on Tuesday. Opposition strategists are hoping the "sympathy" effect over Chavez's death will wear off, giving Capriles a fighting chance if he focuses voters' attention on their myriad daily problems, from potholes to power cuts.