CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Hugo Chavez dominated politics in Venezuela for more than a decade.
So when Venezuelans went to the polls Sunday, the late president's absence was felt sharply by some government supporters who stayed home rather than vote for Chavez's chosen successor, ruling party candidate Nicolas Maduro.
Maria Fernandez, a 48-year-old housewife, said she doesn't plan to start supporting the opposition or its candidate, Henrique Capriles. But she's not inspired by Maduro either.
"I won't vote for the opposition. I don't feel comfortable with that; they got us into this mess," Fernandez said as she waited to buy goods at a bakery in gritty downtown Caracas.
"But I'm not going to vote for these crazy people either," Fernandez added, referring to Maduro and members of his inner circle.
Sunday was the first time that Chavez, who died last month, had not been on the ballot since 1998, when he staged a come-from-behind victory against his leading opponent, Henrique Salas Romer.
From that moment on, Chavez repeatedly steamrolled his adversaries at the polls, handily defeating Francisco Arias in 2000 and Manuel Rosales in 2006. In October, he defeated Capriles by a nearly 11-point margin.
After the October election, Chavez named Maduro as his preferred successor and asked his supporters to vote for his choice in subsequent elections if he didn't survive cancer treatment.
Chavez's death last month forced authorities to organize new balloting for the presidency.
Throughout the campaign, Maduro used his political mentor's legacy as a means of connecting with millions of Venezuelans mourning the death of the man they called "El Comandante."
Tapping into that emotional connection between Chavez and his followers brought political dividends for Maduro, who was vice president and foreign minister under Chavez for more than six years.
As in the case of Fernandez, Maduro's campaign strategy was not powerful enough to reach all "Chavistas," as admirers of the late socialist leader call themselves.
But Jose Montoya said he voted for Maduro because the late president's choice was good enough for him.
"If Chavez chose him it's because he trusted him," the 22-year-old university student said.