In national polls, the highest Helena has gotten so far is 12 percent. The strongest of the five opposition candidates, centrist Geraldo Alckmin, has poll numbers ranging from mid-20s to mid-30s against Lula's high 40s and occasional 50s. If the risk Alckmin might win stays low, it's more tempting for Lula's disappointed supporters to do a protest vote for Helena in the first round.
Alckmin is promising to cut social spending drastically, so Lula's former backers aren't willing to deny the poor the marginal ease a Lula victory would bring. "It's not because of his merits that we will vote for him, but because of our desperation," said Arruda.
Thus, for basic survival reasons, the poor are Lula's biggest boosters. His Bolsa Familia program provides financial stipends to about a quarter of the country's population, but does little to get them out of poverty. His small step in that direction is to raise the minimum wage to about $163 a month and make a campaign pledge to keep it above inflation. Lula's support also comes from some in the middle class who see no relief from government corruption in voting for Alckmin, whose political party has a history of financial scandals. Mainly, the middle class is afraid of the violence poverty produces and convinced that Alckman, as governor of Sao Paulo, was ineffective in coping with gang rampages.
The potential Helena voters take a longer view. They insist on dealing with Brazil's $450 billion debt. Just servicing the interest on it costs much more than all of Lula's social programs, and leaves little money for other needs. Lula failed to use the popularity of his first election victory and the strength of the movements allied with his party to negotiate debt relief. His only plan now is to refinance a small fraction of the debt, and many fear that such small gestures are all that could be expected in a second Lula term.
Lula has also disappointed social movements in other ways: Since 2002, he hasn't met 50 percent of his own goals for giving land to peasant families. Nor did he reach 50 percent of his goal for creating jobs in a country where the official unemployment rate is 10.75 percent, but is as high as 70 percent in poor areas.
The social movements are fighting back. About 15,000 people representing labor and other organizations held a Brazilian Social Forum in Recife in April. There, Jaime Amorim, the leader of the Landless Rural Workers' Movement, announced there would be a different relationship with a second Lula administration, and talk of a return to mass mobilizations filled the air. It was a declaration of independence from the loyalty to Lula which had restrained their criticism of him. It was a warning that even a well-meaning president pressured by the financial sector needs to do a better job of balancing social forces.
Of course, the business sector and the social movements have something in common. Both are unhappy with the 14.75 percent interest rates that make it difficult to expand companies, create more profits and jobs, and grow the economy beyond the 2.7 GDP rate averaged over the last four years.
Ironically, instead of straddling the economic divide, as Lula has tried to do, the social movements threaten to withhold from him their first-round vote as a protest, though they plan to support him in a runoff. Brazilians are too sophisticated just to chose between sulking, working only in movements, or electing a perfect president. So they have deromanticized elections and politicians. Neither Lula nor Helena is seen as a savior, and elections are just a way to open up more sympathetic political space in which movements can work. It's a multifaceted "take all the change you can get anyway you can get it" approach.
As for Lula, he may be wondering whether he will win in the first or second round. The more important question for Brazil is what he will do after he takes office.
Marlene Nadle is a journalist and associate of the Council On Hemispheric Affairs in Washington (www.coha.org)
Contact Marlene Nadle at Nadle@Juno.com.