In Salvador, evangelical pastor Binha Santana and churchgoer Rosilda Carvalho both said they will likely vote for Jair Bolsonaro — or, rather, against da Silva. Santana said the latter’s ideology isn’t compatible with a government of God, while Carvalho cited his corruption convictions — a frequent Bolsonaro talking point — though they were annulled by the Supreme Court.
Neither was especially excited about the incumbent, but both perked up at the mention of the first lady.
“In Brasilia (the nation’s capital) now there are prayers, and where there is prayer, the Lord is present,” Santana said. “He is not evangelical, but her prayer covers him.”
Political scientist Bruno Carazza said Michelle Bolsonaro’s deployment in the home stretch has been like a “secret weapon.”
“She communicates very well with that public because she is authentically evangelical, unlike Bolsonaro who says he is Catholic and embraces evangelicalism because of political opportunism,” Carazza said. “She has a very important role in communication. She literally speaks the tongue of evangelicals.”
Bolsonaro’s support among evangelicals has climbed to 50% from 39% in May, while da Silva’s tumbled, according to a survey pollster Datafolha conducted Sept. 20-22.
The former president’s camp has recognized he has lost ground with them, and earlier this month da Silva held a much-heralded meeting with evangelicals in a stuffy gymnasium on Rio’s outskirts.
Da Silva told the crowd his rise from poverty to the presidency is testament to God’s existence, but stopped short of expanding upon his spirituality. He has said he wishes to treat all religions with respect, including Afro Brazilian faiths, and eschewing religious rivalries or anything resembling holy war.
“I learned that the state shouldn’t have religion, the state shouldn’t have church. It should guarantee the operation and freedom of however many churches people want to create,” he said.
Conservative evangelicals took to social media to portray his remarks as an attack on the Christian church.
A story on one pro-Bolsonaro news website, Folha da Politica, that referenced the same comments and circulated widely on WhatsApp, accused Lula of making threats and being “full of hatred.” Video of the remarks were also shared online by Carlos Bolsonaro, the president’s son.
One of Bolsonaro’s most fervent backers is Silas Malafaia, a popular pastor who presided over the president’s wedding to the first lady, his third wife. He boasts millions of social media followers and regularly blasts da Silva, known universally as Lula, and his party, which he calls “The Party of Darkness.”