The least heralded winner of February 12 is Leopoldo Lopez. He has prudently, and wisely, and with class, stayed in the background. His twitter is almost silent. No way to tell if it is a political calculation or a sign of depression that he is not on top, but whatever it is, Capriles owes him big time. Not for his victory which was a given since at least December, but for the margin his endorsement gave him, shutting up any protest, forcing a near enthusiastic unity around him, offering the national recognition as the undisputed leader. In politics this is gold.
But perhaps the reason why people do not see Lopez as one of the big winners is because he had to pay a price to salvage his political future that would have been seriously damaged if had not reached 20% of the ballots or if, worst, MCM had managed to pass him (which we know now it would not have happened but we did not benefit from that hindsight then). The price he paid was a weakening of his movement, Voluntad Popular (VP). This one lost the only position it held, the Chacao mayor, but also lost the ally in Baruta leaving now Caracas as a Primero Justicia (PJ) fiefdom when it should have normally be an even split. I do not know if reliable exit polls were made at least as to why Blyde lost in Baruta but his defeat was close and had Lopez been in the run until the end Blyde might have made it. And yet overall VP did not come too badly out of the contest as it picked a few nice spots around the country making it the only party today, paradoxically, to have a true national reach.
Lopez help to Capriles
In my own calcualtions of January Lopez was getting up to 500.000 votes, due to the not so subtle strategy of the regime to cast a doubt on whether he coudl take office. In short, he was getting in the polls less than what we were expecting him to get due to his name recognition and clear popularity. The man had worked all across Venezuela in a way that no other candidate had done. He had built from scratch a national party of reliable faithfuls. So he should have been competing for second place with ease, which was not the case.
Yet, his half a million potential voters followed him to Capriles and thus the February 12 smashing victory for this one. Not all, as this writer did not follow Lopez and went MCM knowing full well she would lose: he is writing this just in the spirit of full disclosure.
The best proof of Lopez importance comes from Carabobo state. There Capriles won with 77.5%, BETTER than the 76.3% he got in his home state of Miranda! Carabobo was the state that Lopez was supposed to carry since he had the backing of the local guys, Proyecto Venezuela. He should have normally gained that one with, say, 80 to 100 K votes of the 268 K votes cast. Do the math.
Even Miranda offers additional proof of Lopez importance. Had he kept running there we can safely assume that he would have picked up up to 100 K votes there because he was supported by an ex mayor and he is also a "native son". Another 100 K went for Capriles.
Even if not that rich in votes we can also give Sucre state as an exhibit. There Perez did run a strong 34.8% in a state where PJ has not done so well until now. But VP had been working the grounds and its candidate for governor will be from VP. Thus in Sucre we may not be talking about victory margin for Capriles, we may be talking victory. Period. Let's not forget that beyond the numerical advantage of Capriles, the fact that he did a clean sweep of all but Zulia is also an impressive political benefit to be exploited in the general election. That clean sweep is also in part the gift of Lopez.
Voluntad Popular fares well enough
Let's look at how VP did overall. The main problem it faced was that its candidate was having trouble but that did not stop the vigor at local level. Then the candidate retired and, well, that surely had an impact as many may have just shifted to PJ. Unfortunately without accurate exit polls there is no way to know what fraction may have deserted. The more so that on occasion Leopoldo had to retain a certain ambiguity in his message as he could not jeopardize the chances of Capriles, the real objective. We are left with strictly the results to speculate but they are good enough for that.
The thing here is that we cannot look at quantity but at quality. VP as a new party founded two years ago could not aspire to make a smashing first run. However if it claims it got the nod of the opposition in about 20 districts, many of these are good districts spread all over the country! I would say almost wider spread than PJ which has been at it for a decade now and who only now finally placed a candidate for governor outside Caracas, and that in next door Aragua (Falcon is really a COPEI guy who sensed the wind early enough).
The big prize for VP is the candidate of the state of Sucre. It is also a state where the current governor is so criticized that it is likely chavismo will seek to run with another name. So Sucre is one of the states that has been so battered that finally it may wake up in try something else. And VP will benefit from it.
Apparently the hard work made by VP in the area also gave them more nods in the area: the districts of Guanta and Piritu in Anzoategui and others in Monagas and Sucre. If the Monagas is an uphill battles it is quite possible that a year from now VP may have three mayors and one governor in that area, an excellent trampoline for further gains.
But that is not all. If VP was evicted from the Caracas metro area by losing Chacao, its ally of Baruta and the runner up of Libertador, it got as a consolation prize the nod for La Guaira mayor, which, believe it or not is for the first time since Chavez won in 1998 is not out of reach.
Perhaps what is even better for VP future is that it reached the top nod in two significant districts, one in Lara (Carora) and the state capital of Tachira, San Cristobal. A good management of these districts, if won, can have quite an influence in future regional elections. There are other districts of a more dubious future but which are spread in different states, witnesses of the national hard work of VP: Aragua, 3 in Barinas, a hopeless one in Yaracuy but a not so hopeless in Portuguesa.
Overall for Lopez and VP it is a mixed bag. They did influence clearly the February 12 outcome but right now it is difficult to cash in. Then again if Chavez is reelected there will be nothing to cash so they should not worry much. The objective here is to get rid of Chavez and if we succeed VP will sit at at the table of the big players now, not as a tolerated guest at the MUD as it is the case today.