Horacio Rodríguez Larreta never let go of his enthusiasm. "I'm going to win," he repeated up until Sunday to the point of exhaustion. But by Sunday night, when he left the fourth floor of his flat on Avenida Libertador and went to his party’s bunker in Belgrano, his face had mutated. His mood had changed.
The first exit polls that had been drawn up by Team Rodríguez Larreta pointed to a scenario of virtual parity but, as the afternoon went on, an advantage opened up for his rival for the nomination, Patricia Bullrich.
The Buenos Aires City mayor has worked on his presidential campaign with a close team, but there is also a team of collaborators who have worked with him since 2022 to project him nationally.
On Sunday afternoon, with polling stations open, Rodríguez Larreta was joined by his running-mate, Jujuy Province governor and UCR national leader, Gerardo Morales, economist and ex-finance minister Hernán Lacunza, and legislative candidates Miguel Ángel Pichetto and Coalición Cívica leader Maximiliano Ferraro. No-one was happy.
Exit polls began to show a big difference. Concern grew. Campaign leaders expert Federico Di Benedetto and Eduardo Macchiavelli were the first to arrive at the Juntos por el Cambio bunker at Parque Norte with grim faces.
The black night had only just begun. With the results in, Bullrich was the one who decided the order of appearances onstage. The mayor had a concession speech prepared by his team without his knowledge. As he addressed the crowd, he decided to follow the pre-agreed rules to the letter.
This Monday a new stage will open for Rodríguez Larreta. The job for which he had been preparing since he was five years old is no longer a possibility. But, faced with a scenario in which Javier Milei finished first, he knows that the winner will also need him to consolidate the opposition’s vote.
In the end, Bullrich's triumph was generalised. Only in Buenos Aires Province was there a scenario of parity. However, even that was not enough: the Bullrich-backed Néstor Grindetti won by more than 20,000 votes to become the Buenos Aires Province gubernatorial candidate for Juntos por el Cambio. Rodríguez Larreta’s candidate, Diego Santilli, is out of the race.
Bullrich’s triumph in Buenos Aires City was key: the mayor always maintained that in province he could get a difference of three to five points that would allow him to overcome what he knew would be a defeat in Mendoza, Córdoba and Buenos Aires City. But the advantage ended up being even greater and Bullrich had a wide victory practically everywhere, except in some municipalities in Buenos Aires Province where the mayors who wanted to keep their territories played strongly.
Just after 11.20pm, on a small stage of Parque Norte, Bullrich’s vice-presidential candidate, Luis Petri, appeared first. The nominee herself followed.
“If we were in a normal country we would be celebrating an election. But we are in this Argentina: we live in fear, without being able to project. But we have reasons to celebrate together and it has to do with the opportunity to lead a profound change for Argentina. A change that leaves corruption behind," declared the now official candidate. “Patricia presidenta," supporters chanted back.
"I want to thank Horacio Rodríguez Larreta and Gerardo Morales, together we have made Juntos por el Cambio grow,” continued Bullrich. “We are going to call on all of you to win the general elections and be the government that changes the lives of Argentines," she added to applause.
She thanked Mauricio Macri and said she could summon all the members of the coalition who had working to boost Rodríguez Larreta’s chances. Finally she congratulated Javier Milei for his "great election" and praised "the contribution he made" to the debate.
As supporters chanted that “Kirchnerism no longer exists," Bullrich passed the microphone to her rival, who took to the stage with Morales.
“I really want to congratulate you Patricia. We carried out a top-class internal election with responsibility and that means that today we are more together than ever," said the mayor.
“I will work with Patricia and Luis to consolidate the victory in October,” he finished as Patricia’s militants continued cheering.
Behind the scenes, Bullrich’s close-knit team have been crucial in leading to her victory.In addition to Petri, campaign manager Juan Pablo Arenaza, consultant Derek Hampton and the three key political leaders – Sebastián García de Luca (former deputy interior minister in the Cambiemos government), Cristian Ritondo ( head of the PRO lower house caucus), and Néstor Grindetti ( the mayor of Lanús) – have been influential. Hernán Lombardi, the closest figure to Mauricio Macri, and one of the spokespersons of her campaign, also joined the group.
The political round-table now faces its biggest challenge yet: getting Bullrich to the Casa Rosada and helping Juntos por el Cambio to achieve a national triumph. In this context, the role of the "table" in strategic decision-making will be key. As they had already anticipated to Perfil, a strategy of unity, of bringing all the losers of the primaries, and of targeting those who did not cast a vote are the ocus for the presidential candidate.
The discourse of unity that Bullrich put forward on Sunday night will be the keynote of what is now to come: she knows that she will need all the spaces of the opposition coalition, in particular those who ran with Rodríguez Larreta, behind her if she is to garner enough support to take her into the second round or even to an eventual victory in the first.
For this reason, on Sunday night she embraced Rodríguez Larreta tightly. As never before.