Juntos por el Cambio’s election hopes were boosted on Sunday night as the opposition coalition’s candidate in Santa Fe Province, Maximiliano Pullaro, stormed to victory in the gubernatorial race.
Pullaro, 48, will succeed outgoing Peronist governor Omar Perotti as governor on December 10. Running for Unidos para Cambiar Santa Fe, the provincial deputy secured a clear victory over Peronist Juntos Avancemos rival Senator Marcelo Lewandowski, following on from the opposition coalition’s dominance of the July 16 gubernatorial primaries.
With 99.7 percent of the polling stations reporting on Sunday night, Pullaro had 58.4 percent of the vote, with Lewandowski lagging on 30.86 percent.
The result is good news for Juntos por el Cambio and especially for its presidential candidate, Patricia Bullrich, who is seeking a much-needed momentum boost ahead of the general election on October 22.
The opposition coalition needs to trim the lead libertarian lawmaker Javier Milei gained in several inland regions in the presidential primaries – including Santa Fe Province itself, Argentina's third-largest district, where the outspoken economist won 35.19 percent of the vote.
"With Maxi Pullaro's victory, I believe that Juntos por el Cambio will win in Santa Fe in October. After this, I don't think Milei will come first, it's not going to happen again," said Bullrich after celebrating with the successful candidate onstage at the opposition’s bunker.
Bullrich, who joined Pullaro onstage on Sunday night along with several other coalition heavyweights (including her defeated primary rival City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta), said in a speech to voters that the victory gave “new momentum which will then follow in [the provinces of] Entre Ríos, in Chaco, in Mendoza, in Buenos Aires and nationwide."
In little more than a month’s time, the opposition will find out if it has really reversed the tide. Most polls at present show Milei in first place, with Bullrich and ruling coalition candidate, Economy Minister Sergio Massa, locked in a battle for second place.
Prior to the August 13 PASO primaries, the opposition had performed well in several provincial elections, with victories in San Juan and San Luis ejecting Peronist forces from power for the first time in decades, as well as winning Patagonian provinces like Chubut and Neuquén.
However, Milei’s performance in the presidential primary has shaken up things, with Bullrich’s camp fearing that a large part of the former security minister’s voting base has been attracted to the libertarian’s aggressive rhetoric against the establishment.
However, Massa too will be seeking to improve his provincial game in the October vote after La Libertad Avanza’s presidential candidate triumphed in several areas of Peronist control, including the provinces of Tucumán, La Rioja, La Pampa, Misiones, Tierra del Fuego, San Luis and San Juan.
Pullaro’s victory was strong enough for his Unidos para Cambiar Santa Fe party to obtain a comfortable position in the provincial legislature, with majorities in the Chamber of Deputies and Senate. The list of deputies headed by Clara García – widow of former governor Miguel Lifschitz – won with 33 percent of the votes.
In the list of Deputies, against the Peronist list led by outgoing Governor Perotti, who came second with 27.88 percent of the votes, according to the provisional count.
Pullaro’s rise to power began from humble roots. Born in Hughes, a small town in the south of Santa Fe, he has a degree in Political Science from the National University of Rosario (UNR) and is a leader in the Unión Cívica Radical (UCR). He spent much of his political career in the Frente Progresista, a provincial alliance formed by the Radicals and the Partido Socialista.
His victory in the provincial primaries over national senator Carolina Losada came after a hard-fought and aggressive campaign, with accusations of drug-trafficking and threats thrown into the debate.
Regarding his future government, Pullaro said before the primaries that his first measures would be based on security, including the “return to controlling the prisons with maximum security cells, the resumption of criminal investigations to dismantle gangs and taking the police to the streets with a scheme of quadrants by layers as we had in 2019.”
In an interview with Telenoche Rosario at the end of August, Pullaro said he would consider voting for Milei if the libertarian faced Massa in the run-off.
"Kirchnerism is the worst thing which could happen to us," said the provincial deputy, who said at the time he preferred Bullrich to emerge victorious.
"I am betting that Patricia Bullrich will be the president because I share values, a government programme and I managed security together with her, I for the province and she for the nation,” he said.