August 11, 2008 / 10:01 PM / 11 years ago

What's in a name? Brazil candidates seek Obama buzz

BRASILIA (Reuters) - Alexandre “Barack Obama” Jacinto has a dream — to be the first black president of Brazil.

But first, Jacinto has to win his bid for a seat on the town council in Petrolina, Brazil. And like six other candidates in Brazil’s municipal elections, Jacinto is campaigning under the name Barack Obama, hoping to capitalize on the U.S. Democratic presidential candidate’s popularity.

A quirk in Brazilian election law allows candidates to use whatever name they want in campaigns, and Obama has emerged as a popular choice among politicians seeking to reinforce a “Yes, We Can” message.

U.S. Republican presidential hopeful John McCain has not attracted any copycats, electoral data show.

“I read a book about his (Obama’s) rise — a poor, simple black who became a senator. My aim too is to get to the top — the presidency,” said Jacinto, who is running for office in northeastern state of Pernambuco.

Obama’s campaign has generated huge interest in Brazil, where African heritage is a key part of the country’s identity but where many blacks still struggle.

Just like the real Obama, Brazil’s copycats are not finding it all smooth sailing on the campaign trail.

Jovelino Selis of the ruling Workers’ Party said his use of Obama’s name stirred rumors that he was connected with Islamic terrorists — an echo of Obama’s problems with rumors that he is a Muslim.

“It was a marketing ploy. The idea stuck — it was on people’s minds,” said Selis, a black mathematics teacher who is running for councilor in the town of Ubirata in the southern state of Parana.

Jacinto also said he was worried that anti-Americanism might lose him votes.

For Claudio Henrique dos Anjos, a mayoral candidate in the Rio de Janeiro municipality of Belford Roxo, his physical resemblance to Obama made the name-borrowing an easy choice.

“It wasn’t a marketing strategy, but this idea has brought a positive effect among people,” said Anjos, who said he was the area’s first black mayoral candidate.

Despite their newfound name recognition, Brazil’s “Obamas” can only dream of the campaign planes and limousines at the real candidate’s disposal.

“I even have to ask for shoes for campaigning because I walk a lot and mine have holes,” Jacinto said. “Things are ugly.”

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