Hugo Chávez beats the spread

It looks like Evan beat me to the punch here (I'm apartment hunting and have a bad internet connection), but let me add a couple of points.

Two weeks ago, the Washington Post was managing expectations leading up to yesterday's presidential elections in Venezuela. "Setbacks" for Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, the WaPo's Juan Forero told us, were emboldening the opposition. While Chávez led most polls by at least 15-20 points, "there [were] signs the government is anxious about a strong showing by the opposition." The implication was that a win by, say, ten percentage points would have represented a rebuke of Chávez' policies.

It was a variation on a familiar theme about What Elections In Latin America Really Mean, and it goes like this: everything in Latin American politics is a reflection on Hugo Chávez' style. There are no issues that move voters from Mexico to Brazil except for Chávez' populism and ideological clashes with the United States. Whenever a candidate to the left of Pinochet loses -- anywhere -- it's because the people have renounced Hugo's divisive brand of neo-socialism. At the same time, any win for a candidate on the left only resulted because he or she distanced him or herself from Chávez. So, while an American president who takes 51 percent of the vote has a mandate -- elections matter, we're told -- a Chávez victory in anything less than a landslide is actually a defeat for his Bolivarian revolution. Ho hum.

Anyway, it looks like Chávez beat the spread; with 78 percent of the votes counted, electoral authorities announced last night that Chávez had won 61.3 percent of the vote to 38.4 percent for his opponent Manuel Rosales. That's slightly higher than Chávez last win, but within the same 60 percent range that he's gotten in 1998, 2000 and 2004.

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