PRO remains the same

Julio Burdman


Macri’s party may retain City but still faces difficulties nationally.


Thanks to Sunday’s win, that given the 20-point difference between the winner (Horacio Rodríguez Larreta) and Martín Lousteau is likely to be confirmed in the runoff, Mauricio Macri’s PRO will probably retain the government of the City of Buenos Aires. This triumph confirms that, in the Capital, PRO is an established party that no longer depends solely on Macri‘s leadership. But, is that enough to launch a presidential candidacy?


BUENOS AIRES vs. CÓRDOBA


As a matter of fact, that same Sunday, in the province of Córdoba, the political party of presidential candidate José Manuel de la Sota, a dissident Peronist, won again. Córdoba is a bigger district than the City of Buenos Aires. Actually, it is the country’s second largest, behind the province of Buenos Aires, whereas the Capital city is the fourth, with less than eight percent of the nation’s total population. But nobody believes that after winning Córdoba, De la Sota will start an unstoppable race to the presidency. De la Sota is, for now, mostly a local phenomenon. And what about Macri? The map says that PRO is, until today, a porteño phenomenon, because the party was born in the City and has never won any executive election in any other province. PRO’s great opportunity to graduate as a national political party was Santa Fe, the country’s third-largest district after Córdoba. But there Miguel Del Sel lost by a few votes. For now, everything remains the same for PRO.


Nevertheless, Macri enjoys a bigger national exposure than De la Sota. This is not so much due to his experience, or his political career at Boca Juniors, but to a deep cultural phenomenon. The City of Buenos Aires has a bigger national influence over the rest of the country than Córdoba. Sorry fellow countrymen from Córdoba, but that’s the truth. What’s more, yesterday’s major national newspapers — all of those printed in Buenos Aires — carried PRO’s triumph as their lead story on the cover, with big pictures of Macri, and only a few of them mentioned Córdoba or De la Sota. That cultural advantage is crucial. For this reason, PRO has decided that one of its main campaign goals is to “export Buenos Aires” to the rest of the country. That was Macri’s message in his speech on Sunday night. Even his candidate for Buenos Aires province governor, María Eugenia Vidal, is his current deputy mayor in Buenos Aires City.


Macri also stands out for his effective communication. The PRO brand is now powerful, and it has succeeded in imposing its yellow colour and logos everywhere. But PRO lacks territorial presence so it has tried to compensate for this with its alliance with the Radical Party.


However, this is not enough. PRO and its Radical ally have failed to establish a broad national coalition that is present throughout the country, comparable to the one currently headed by the ruling Victory Front. And it is not even clear that the provincial triumphs achieved by the Radicals, like the one in Mendoza, can be credited in PRO’s favour. The Radicals, in 2016, will still be Radicals. And if Macri is not elected president, he will be one more on the list of past presidential candidates that Radicalism was able carry on its ballots. Last Sunday, 20 percent of the national electorate voted in five districts, and the results show that everything remains the same: there is political continuity in the City of Buenos Aires, and in the provinces of Córdoba, La Rioja, Corrientes and La Pampa. And PRO also remains the same: just like in the past eight years, and for four more years, it is the party of government in the porteño city.


LOUSTEAU LOST HIS GREAT OPPORTUNITY


Last Sunday, the electoral fight in the City was mostly to get Gabriela Michetti’s many votes of the primaries. Over 18 percent of the porteño electorate had voted for her on April 26, and they were not completely sure about their final vote. In our column for the Buenos Aires Herald of June 23, we said that those were the voters Lousteau should aim to woo if he wanted to be mayor: up until June 19, the polls were saying that up to four out of ten of Michetti’s voters were considering voting for Lousteau after all.


For Lousteau , the dominant strategy had two stages. First, after the primaries were held and until July 5, he had to chase after Michetti’s voters, in order to shorten the distance with Larreta and to get into a good shape for the runoff. Second, from July 5 on and over the next two weeks, he had to conquer Mariano Recalde’s voters. A difficult move, yes, dealing with two different audiences and then two different messages. But not an impossible one.


Larreta, meanwhile, only had to do one thing: to win over all the Michetti voters that he could, and to stand out from Lousteau. And he did both things well. First, PRO offered Michetti the vice-presidential candidacy, and that she join to electoral bandwagon. The great reason behind that decision was to assure the loyalty of her voters, who would have felt lost if their candidate had been dismissed. In addition, Larreta was smart enough to preserve himself and to put Lousteau and Recalde, together, in the same place: in front of him.


Recalde, all the time, wanted to show the voters that Larreta and Lousteau were “the same thing.” And Lousteau rejected that label. That was a mistake: he should have benefitted from it. He should have identified himself, in many ways, as closer to Macri. When Recalde, at the climax of the debate on the cable news channel TN, asked Lousteau for whom he would vote for president, he refused to answer. But then, Lousteau should have said: “for Ernesto Sanz in the first round, and in case of a runoff between Scioli and Macri, for Macri.” That was what the “Michettistas” wanted to hear.


But Lousteau, instead of talking to them, was thinking about the Kirchnerites he did not want to disappoint. In fact, his campaign slogan, “with a runoff we all win,” was also aiming to seduce the 20 percent of Kirchnerites he was going to need later. He rushed it, and tried to combine the two-step strategy in only one. And he ended up in a confusing place. This explains why, in the last days of the campaign, Larreta’s vote intention increased, reaching 45.5 percent on Sunday: the “Michettistas” decided to stay.


Publicado en Buenos Aires Herald el 8 de julio de 2015. Versión publicada aquí.