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A painful-to-watch debate closes Brazil’s presidential campaign

President Jair Bolsonaro and former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva on Friday night faced each other in the last debate before Brazilians decide, on Sunday, which of the two will lead the country in the next four years.

Friday’s debate drew a massive viewership, with half of the television sets in Brazil’s metropolitan areas tuned to the smackdown between the two candidates. However, as the first encounter between the two, on October 16, this debate lacked proposals — Lula and Mr. Bolsonaro spent most of the two-and-a-half hours of debate attacking each other.

As we had predicted, Mr. Bolsonaro attacked Lula early and often on the issue of corruption.

In the first runoff debate on October 16, such questions rattled the center-left former leader, who stumbled to respond. That inability led to poor clock management and allowed Mr. Bolsonaro to close that debate with a monologue of nearly six minutes.

This time around, Lula was better prepared and tried to answer accusations with jabs of his own, pointing out that the president’s family bought dozens of real estate properties with cash (a move usually associated with money laundering).

From the start, Lula tried to focus on bread-and-butter issues, repeating multiple times that Mr. Bolsonaro’s administration has not yet provided an increase to the minimum wage above inflation.

Still, Lula again spent too much time talking about issues that are not top of mind for most voters, such as foreign policy. “You isolated Brazil. Brazil is today more isolated than Cuba. The Cubans have relations with almost everyone in South America, while you have relationships with no one,” Lula said multiple times.

Mr. Bolsonaro, meanwhile, appeared nervous on several occasions and called a thug and head of a criminal organization multiple times. The former president even apologized to voters for the poor level of the debate.

In the end, the debate had no clear winner — which may favor Lula, who is campaigning from a position of advantage in the polls.

Pollster Atlas Intel analyzed a focus group with 100 voters who did not vote for either candidate in the first round. For 51 percent, Lula was the winner of the debate — while Mr. Bolsonaro fared better for 33 percent. Almost 70 percent say the debate made an impact on their voting decision.

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