Center-left presidential candidate Fernando Haddad sought to gain the support of Brazil's Catholic church on Thursday as a new poll showed him losing the Oct. 28 runoff to far-right hopeful Jair Bolsonaro, who is strongly backed by evangelicals.
Despite survey results that give him a 58 percent to 42 percent advantage over Haddad, Bolsonaro urged his supporters via social media to "keep up the effort."
Haddad visited the headquarters of the national Catholics bishops conference, which has been interpreted as an attempt to gain the backing of Catholics to offset the support Bolsonaro has received from Brazil's powerful evangelical churches.
The Workers Party (PT) candidate said that his government program includes elements from the agenda that Pope Francis has put forward, which seeks to "strengthen democracy, environmental protection and social issues."
Brazil's bishops have not publicly come out to support either of the candidates, though they have urged Catholics to vote for the person who seeks to defend the values mentioned by Haddad.
The former Sao Paulo mayor said that "exactly a month" has passed since he was nominated as the PT's presidential candidate, replacing imprisoned ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, barred from running because of a corruption conviction.
"A month ago I had 4 percent of the preferences in the polls, and I now have 42 percent," Haddad said, adding that there were still "two weeks of work" to be done to improve his poll numbers.
Haddad's meeting with the bishops is considered to be a key strategy for the PT, as the electoral race has not only been about politics but also about religion, with growing divisions between Catholics and evangelicals.
The Pentecostal movement is one of the evangelical groups that has most supported Bolsonaro, openly promoting his candidacy in churches and in their national television and radio networks.
In addition, some of the most well-known evangelical pastors have attacked the PT and Haddad on a daily basis, accusing them of being "communists" and of being a threat to "moral and family values."
The Catholic church has not been so direct, urging believers to vote for those candidates who will "defend democracy," which is a thinly veiled attack on Bolsonaro, who praises Brazil's 1964-1985 military regime.