In Brazil's poor northeast, right-winger makes inroads

BARREIRINHAS, Brazil, Oct 24 (Reuters) - The home of Crenilton Santos Ferreira and his wife, Claudia Adriana, sits at the end of a sandy path in the scorched northeast Brazilian state of Maranhao, the poorest in the nation.

Maranhenses, as locals are known, cast almost 80 percent of their ballots for the leftist Workers Party (PT) in Brazil's presidential election in 2014. This month, they re-elected their governor, a member of the Brazilian Communist Party, with almost 60 percent of the vote.

As Brazil's presidential election nears an Oct. 28 run-off, however, Ferreira plans to vote for Jair Bolsonaro, a far-right congressional firebrand from the distant city of Rio de Janeiro.

Despite years of offensive comments about women and blacks, the former army captain is on the verge of winning the presidency with his law-and-order rhetoric, conservative social views and vows to fight political corruption.

31 PHOTOS
Far-right politician makes headway in Brazil's poor northeast
See Gallery
Far-right politician makes headway in Brazil's poor northeast

Three-month-old Maria Vitoria, granddaughter of Maria da Luz who plans to vote for leftist candidate Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) in Brazil's presidential election, sleeps in a hammock inside her house, in Morro Do Veridiano, Belagua Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 11, 2018.

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Pastor Crenilton Ferreira (R), 34, and his wife Claudia Adriana, 37, who plan to vote for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil's presidential election, cut fish on the river outside their house in Palmeira Dos Reis, Barreirinha Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 14, 2018. "My vote is for Bolsonaro because he defends the value of family, Christian values," said Ferreira. "He doesn't defend a party, he defends a nation: Brazil." 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Claudia Adriana, 37, arranges the tie of her husband Pastor Crenilton Ferreira (L), 34, before he leads prayers at Assembleia de Deus Cristo para Todos Church in Palmeira Dos Reis, Barreirinha Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 14, 2018. The family plans to vote for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil's presidential election. "My vote is for Bolsonaro because he defends the value of family, Christian values," said Ferreira. "He doesn't defend a party, he defends a nation: Brazil." 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Pastor Crenilton Ferreira, 34, who plans to vote for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil's presidential election, wears a T-shirt with the image of Bolsonaro as he interacts with his cow at their house, in Palmeira Dos Reis, Barreirinha Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 14, 2018. "My vote is for Bolsonaro because he defends the value of family, Christian values," said Ferreira. "He doesn't defend a party, he defends a nation: Brazil." 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Claudia Adriana, 37, wife of Pastor Crenilton Ferreira, who plans to vote for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil's presidential election, prepares to cook fish at her house, in Palmeira Dos Reis, Barreirinha Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 14, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Maria da Luz, 54, who plans to vote for leftist candidate Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) in Brazil's presidential election, cooks chicken inside her house, in Morro Do Veridiano, Belagua Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 11, 2018. "I'll probably vote for Papa Lula, for his candidate. The boss has always helped us," said Maria da Luz. 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Raimundo Ferreira, 74, who plans to vote for leftist candidate Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) in Brazil's presidential election, has his blood pressure measured, in Morro Do Veridiano, Belagua Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 10, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Isaac, son of Pastor Crenilton Ferreira who plans to vote for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil's presidential election, watches TV inside his house in Palmeira Dos Reis, Barreirinha Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 14, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Brazil's national soccer team t-shirt is pictured inside the house of Pastor Crenilton Ferreira who plans to vote for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil's presidential election, in Palmeira Dos Reis, Barreirinha Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 14, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Isaac and Izabelle (L), children of Pastor Crenilton who plans to vote for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil's presidential election, play in a river next to their house in Palmeira Dos Reis, Barreirinha Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 14, 2018.

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Pastor Crenilton Ferreira, 34, who plans to vote for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil's presidential election, washes dishes inside his house in Palmeira Dos Reis, Barreirinha Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 14, 2018. "My vote is for Bolsonaro because he defends the value of family, Christian values," said Ferreira. "He doesn't defend a party, he defends a nation: Brazil." 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Claudia Adriana, 37, wife of Pastor Crenilton who plans to vote for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil's presidential election, picks fresh parsley next to her house in Palmeira Dos Reis, Barreirinha Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 14, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Photographs hang on a wall of the house of Pastor Crenilton Ferreira who plans to vote for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil's presidential election, in Palmeira Dos Reis, Barreirinha Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 14, 2018.

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

The writing "Jesus loves you" is seen on a wall of Pastor Crenilton Ferreira's house who plans to vote for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil's presidential election, in Palmeira Dos Reis, Barreirinha Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 14, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Pastor Crenilton Ferreira (2nd L), 34, his wife Claudia Adriana, 37, and their children Izabelli (R) and Isaac (L) pose for a photograph in front of their house in Palmeira Dos Reis, Barreirinha Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 14, 2018. The family plans to vote for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil's presidential election. "My vote is for Bolsonaro because he defends the value of family, Christian values," said Ferreira. "He doesn't defend a party, he defends a nation: Brazil."

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Pastor Crenilton Ferreira, 34, who plans to vote for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil's presidential election, rests in a hammock at his house in Palmeira Dos Reis, Barreirinha Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 14, 2018. "My vote is for Bolsonaro because he defends the value of family, Christian values," said Ferreira. "He doesn't defend a party, he defends a nation: Brazil." 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Pastor Crenilton Ferreira, 34, who plans to vote for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil's presidential election, leads prayers at Assembleia de Deus Cristo para Todos Church, in Palmeira Dos Reis, Barreirinha Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 14, 2018. "My vote is for Bolsonaro because he defends the value of family, Christian values," said Ferreira. "He doesn't defend a party, he defends a nation: Brazil." 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Pastor Crenilton Ferreira, 34, who plans to vote for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil's presidential election, sits in a hammock at his house in Palmeira Dos Reis, Barreirinha Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 14, 2018. "My vote is for Bolsonaro because he defends the value of family, Christian values," said Ferreira. "He doesn't defend a party, he defends a nation: Brazil." 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Pastor Crenilton Ferreira (R), 34, who plans to vote for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil's presidential election, talks with a man rolling Brazil's national flag after leading a prayer at Assembleia de Deus Cristo para Todos Church, in Palmeira Dos Reis, Barreirinha Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 14, 2018. "My vote is for Bolsonaro because he defends the value of family, Christian values," said Ferreira. "He doesn't defend a party, he defends a nation: Brazil." 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Pastor Crenilton Ferreira, 34, who plans to vote for far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil's presidential election, drives with his family towards the Assembleia de Deus Cristo para Todos Church in Palmeira Dos Reis, Barreirinha Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 14, 2018. "My vote is for Bolsonaro because he defends the value of family, Christian values," said Ferreira. "He doesn't defend a party, he defends a nation: Brazil." 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

A horse belonging to the family of Maria da Luz and Raimundo Ferreira, who plan to vote for leftist candidate Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) in Brazil's presidential election, stands outside the family's house, in Morro Do Veridiano, Belagua Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 11, 2018.

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Maria da Luz, 54, who plans to vote for leftist candidate Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) in Brazil's presidential election, bathes her three-month-old granddaughter Maria Vitoria outside her house, in Morro Do Veridiano, Belagua Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 11, 2018. "I'll probably vote for Papa Lula, for his candidate. The boss has always helped us," said Maria da Luz. 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

A poster depicting former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (R) hangs on a wall of family house of Maria da Luz and Raimundo Ferreira, who plan to vote for leftist candidate Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) in Brazil's presidential election, in Morro do Veridiano, in the Belagua Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 11, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Maria da Luz, 54, who plans to vote for leftist candidate Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) in Brazil's presidential election, walks with a bucket of water to wash the dishes outside her house, in Morro Do Veridiano, Belagua Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 11, 2018. "I'll probably vote for Papa Lula, for his candidate. The boss has always helped us," said Maria da Luz.

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Pedro, 16, son of Maria da Luz and Raimundo Ferreira, who plan to vote for leftist candidate Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) in Brazil's presidential election, rides his horse outside his house, in Morro Do Veridiano, Belagua Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 11, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

A dog looks at Maria da Luz, 54, who plans to vote for leftist candidate Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) in Brazil's presidential election, prepares chicken inside her house, in Morro Do Veridiano, Belagua Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 11, 2018. "I'll probably vote for Papa Lula, for his candidate. The boss has always helped us," said Maria da Luz. 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Raimundo Ferreira, 74, who plans to vote for leftist candidate Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) in Brazil's presidential election, sits in a chair inside his house, in Morro Do Veridiano, Belagua Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 11, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Ida, 14, daughter of Maria da Luz and Raimundo Ferreira, who plan to vote for leftist candidate Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) in Brazil's presidential election, reads a book inside her house, in Morro Do Veridiano, Belagua Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 11, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Maria da Luz, 54, who plans to vote for leftist candidate Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) in Brazil's presidential election, holds her three-month-old granddaughter as the baby smiles at her mother Maria Natividade (R), 18, and her aunt Ida (C), 14, as they arrive home after school, in Morro Do Veridiano, Belagua Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 11, 2018. "I'll probably vote for Papa Lula, for his candidate. The boss has always helped us," said Maria da Luz.

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

(L-R) Maria da Luz, 54, her husband Raimundo Ferreira, 74, and their children Ida, 14, Maria Natividade, 18, holding her baby, and Pedro, 16, pose for a photograph in front of their house, in Morro Do Veridiano, Belagua Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 11, 2018. The family plans to vote for leftist candidate Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) in Brazil's presidential election. "I'll probably vote for Papa Lula, for his candidate. The boss has always helped us," said Maria da Luz. 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

Maria Natividade, 18, who plans to vote for leftist candidate Fernando Haddad of the Workers Party (PT) in Brazil's presidential election, hangs clothes for her baby at her house, in Morro Do Veridiano, Belagua Municipality in Maranhao state, Brazil, October 11, 2018. 

(REUTERS/Nacho Doce)

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"My vote is for Bolsonaro because he defends the value of family, Christian values," said Ferreira, a pastor in the outback town of Barreirinhas. "He doesn't defend a party, he defends a nation: Brazil."

Ferreira's enthusiasm for Bolsonaro, in this corner of Brazil that lacks televisions and cellular signals, is a testament to the politician's appeal to a range of voters, even in places where conservative candidates have been weak or non-existent.

With only a tiny party behind him and almost no TV advertising until this month, Bolsonaro is on track for a resounding victory, even as his chances were dismissed by many political analysts just months ago.

Ferreira's advocacy for Bolsonaro — in his parish and around the town — highlights one of the candidate's hidden strengths: the evangelical establishment has provided a grassroots army of volunteers for the lawmaker's threadbare campaign.

LEFT STILL HOLDS SWAY

In Maranhao, evangelical pastors and their parishes have provided an opening for Bolsonaro in otherwise-unfertile ground.

While wide swathes of Brazil's wealthy south and southeast are expected to vote for the congressman, much of the country's hardscrabble north and northeast is still likely to break hard for the Workers Party, or PT.

That loyalty to the leftists springs from deep gratitude for the generous social welfare programs the PT expanded, especially during the 2003-2011 presidency of Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Asked about the 12-year prison sentence Lula is serving for corruption, most in the region were unfazed. Indeed, many weren't even familiar with the name of Fernando Haddad, Lula's last-minute stand-in and a former Sao Paulo mayor, though they planned to vote for him.

11 PHOTOS
Brazil's presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro
See Gallery
Brazil's presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro
Presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro, of the Social Liberal Party, left, flashes a thumbs up at a polling station in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians choose among 13 candidates for president Sunday in one of the most unpredictable and divisive elections in decades. If no one gets a majority in the first round, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, with the Social Liberal Party, waves to the press after visiting Federal Police headquarters in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. Bolsonaro won the first round of the presidential election Oct. 7 with 46 percent of the vote, but since he failed to top 50 percent, he is in a second-round ballot on Oct. 28. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro poses for a photo during a meeting with Rio de Janeiro's Archbishop Dom Orani Tempesta in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2018. Bolsonaro won the first round of the presidential election Oct. 7 with 46 percent of the vote, but since he failed to top 50 percent, he is in a second-round ballot on Oct. 28. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, of the right wing Social Liberal Party speaks during a press conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. Bolsonaro will face Workers Party presidential candidate Fernando Haddad in a presidential runoff on Oct. 28. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
El candidato de extrema derecha a la presidencia de Brasil, Jair Bolsonaro, llega a una conferencia de prensa en Río de Janeiro, Brasil, el jueves 11 de octubre de 2018. (AP Foto/Leo Correa)
Presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, of the right wing Social Liberal Party, arrives for a press conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. Bolsonaro will face Workers Party presidential candidate Fernando Haddad in a presidential runoff on Oct. 28. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
Gustavo Bebianno Rocha, right, president of the right wing Social Liberal Party, whispers to his presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, of the Social Liberal Party as his son Flavio Bolsonaro, left, stands aside during a press conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. Bolsonaro will face Workers Party presidential candidate Fernando Haddad in a presidential runoff on Oct. 28. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
En esta imagen, tomada el 7 de octubre de 2018, el candidato presidencial Jair Bolsonaro, favorito en las encuestas, hace el signo de la victoria tras depositar su voto en Río de Janeiro, Brasil. Bolsonaro quedó a un paso de la victoria en la primera ronda y se medirá al exalcalde de Sao Paulo Fernando Haddad, candidato del Partido de los Trabajadores, en el balotaje del 28 de octubre. (AP Foto/Leo Correa)
El líder en las encuestas hacia las elecciones por la presidencia Jair Bolsonaro, del Partido Social Liberal (izquierda), aparece acompañado de su hijo Flavio Bolsonaro, antes de sufragar en Río de Janeiro, Brasil, el domingo 7 de octubre de 2018. (AP Foto/Silvia Izquierdo)
Jair Bolsonaro, presidential candidate with the Social Liberal Party, gestures after voting in general elections in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Silvia Izquierdo)
Presidential frontrunner Jair Bolsonaro, of the Social Liberal Party, leaves a polling station after casting his ballot in the general election, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Sunday, Oct. 7, 2018. Brazilians choose among 13 candidates for president Sunday in one of the most unpredictable and divisive elections in decades. If no one gets a majority in the first round, the top two candidates will compete in a runoff. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
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"I'll probably vote for Papa Lula, for his candidate. The boss has always helped us," said Maria da Luz, a 54-year-old mother of ten, when asked whom she would vote for.

Luz and her husband, Raimundo Domingo Ferreira Pires, 74, live in Belagua, one of the poorest towns in Brazil, according to government statistics.

She receives about 500 reais ($135) a month from a welfare program known as Bolsa Familia, while Pires receives another 650 reais in pension benefits.

That money, Pires said, has helped the family buy clothing, pencils and notebooks that their children need to attend school.

Even Ferreira, the Bolsonaro-supporting pastor, relies on the Bolsa Familia program to make ends meet. He gets 163 reais per month to support his two children, complementing his salary of 800 reais.

Yet, conversations with fellow church members helped turn him sharply against the PT, which upset many evangelicals by supporting gay rights and sex education in school.

Ferreira talks politics via satellite radio with Pedro Aldi Damasceno, a senior pastor in the state capital of Sao Luis, who does not shy away from the subject on the pulpit.

"We're Christians, we defend real Christianity with ardor and zeal," Damasceno told Reuters in an interview.

"There's no peace between us and Haddad. He's the enemy, the enemy of the believers."

($1 = 3.68 reais)

(Reporting by Nacho Doce; Additional reporting by Lais Martins; Writing by Gram Slattery; Editing by Brad Haynes and Bernadette Baum)

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