- Associated Press - Monday, April 16, 2012

CARACAS — With fewer than six months left until election day, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has hardly hit the campaign trail.

Instead, he has been consumed with his fight against cancer, repeatedly traveling to Cuba for treatment and publicly vowing to defeat his illness.

While cancer would end the presidential ambitions of many politicians, Mr. Chavez’s struggle against the disease has in fact become his main rallying cry.

Cancer could serve as a political asset, if his health holds through the October vote.

Last week, Mr. Chavez offered his starkest outlook yet as he wept while holding hands with his parents at a Mass and then pleaded to Jesus Christ to give him more life.

“Give me your crown, Christ,” Mr. Chavez said in live footage broadcast nationwide.

“Give me your cross, 100 crosses. I’ll carry it, but give me life because there are still things left for me to do for these people and for this homeland. Don’t take me away yet.”

The socialist president said later that he has faith in a “miracle,” as he undergoes radiation therapy in Cuba following two surgeries that removed tumors from his pelvic area.

Political support still strong

So far, what appears to be a serious life-or-death crisis has not dented his political support. One recent poll showed Mr. Chavez with a lead of 14 percentage points over rival Henrique Capriles. The poll by the firm Datanalisis had a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

Mr. Chavez has managed to hold on to support even while his main image has been that of an ailing president climbing or descending airplane stairs on his frequent flights to and from Cuba for treatment. Many Venezuelans are supporting him despite 25-percent inflation and one of the worst homicide rates in the world.

Information Minister Andres Izarra, one of Mr. Chavez’s key aides, said that the president will not be out campaigning door-to-door like his rival because “he doesn’t need to.” Mr. Izarra also said Mr. Chavez’s spirits are being lifted by his supporters.

“That love of the people, it’s arisen like a balsam, like part of his medicine, like part of his treatment to completely recover,” Mr. Izarra said during a televised speech.

Eduardo Gamarra, a Latin American studies professor at Florida International University in Miami, said compassion elicited by Mr. Chavez’s illness ” has naturally played to his advantage in the electoral process.”

“Not only President Chavez but certainly his supporters and certainly the people handling his political campaign are taking full advantage of it. And I think it would be crazy for them not to do so,” Mr. Gamarra said.

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