Venezuela's López pulls out of presidential race
The center-left state governor Capriles was already the favorite to win the Feb. 12 opposition Democratic Unity coalition primary and will be further boosted by Lopez's surprise exit.
The opposition's unity candidate is to face President Hugo Chavez in an Oct. 7 presidential election that could be one of Venezuela's closest in decades.
"It's true. Leopoldo will explain his decision later today, but basically the government made things impossible for him," a Lopez aide told reporters, referring to a ban on the politician from holding office.
There are now five opposition candidates vying for the Democratic Unity presidential ticket.
Capriles leads his fellow opposition aspirants in opinion polls by 10 to 20 percentage points, and surveys show he is also the candidate with the best possibilities against Chavez given his populist style and non-confrontational rhetoric.
A Harvard graduate with Hollywood good looks, Lopez, 40, was arguably the most-recognized opposition candidates abroad because of his long and highly publicized legal fight with the Chavez government after being disqualified from politics in 2008.
The regional Inter-American Court of Human Rights ruled in his favor last year, then Venezuela's Supreme Court confusingly decreed he could run for president, but was still barred from holding office because of a pending graft probe. He always denied the charges.
Capriles, who has impressed voters as an efficient governor of Miranda state, exudes a similar confidence to Chavez, as well as an on-the-street style reminiscent of the Venezuelan president's first presidential campaign and early days.
"What you see here is like 1998 when Chavez ran for the first time. He didn't have the machinery, but he did have the people," Capriles told reporters recently during campaign stops in the eastern Caribbean coastal state of Sucre where he was constantly mobbed by crowds.
"I'm younger than Chavez. I have an energy that he doesn't have. He's in a comfort zone. And you know the best thing? He thinks he can't lose. I hope he keeps believing that."