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Brazil prepares for one of the most contentious presidential elections in decades

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Brazil is getting ready for one of the closest and most contentious presidential elections in decades. This Sunday's runoff pits the incumbent, a far-right nationalist, against a famous leftist hoping for a political comeback. As NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, who you support largely depends on where you live.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in Portuguese).

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: As you head north out of Sao Paolo, Brazil's largest city, the landscape opens up to vast fields of coffee, orange groves and Brazil's country music, sertanejo.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in Portuguese).

KAHN: Here in Brazil's largest state, Sao Paolo, the urban residents and the poor generally went for ex-President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, while people better off tended toward current President Jair Bolsonaro, especially those in the countryside.

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UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Maria da Graca.

MARIA DA GRACA: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: Maria da Graca has been playing sertanejo oldies at this Catholic radio station for 35 years. The 73-year-old grandmother says here in Casa Branca, with a population about 30,000, people are all about family values.

DA GRACA: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: Her religious programs speak to that, too, she says. She doesn't talk about politics but gives an emphatic thumbs up when I ask her if she supports Bolsonaro.

(SOUNDBITE OF PRINTER)

KAHN: Talking politics is no problem for 33-year-old Marina Cristina Roberto, who is ringing up a sale in the small gift shop off the town's tiny central plaza. Bolsonaro has set a great example for her kids, she says.

MARINA CRISTINA ROBERTO: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: "I want them to be in the military like Bolsonaro and be righteous."

Casa Branca went big for Bolsonaro with 60% of the vote, compared to the 43% he got nationwide. Supporters shrug off his crude, misogynistic and racist comments and approve of his opposition to abortion and LGBTQ rights.

(SOUNDBITE OF THUMPING)

KAHN: Pickers grab oranges off the trees in Leonel Krauss' expansive orchard. He says Bolsonaro has boosted agriculture in the country, which now accounts for a third of Brazil's GDP. The 29-year-old general manager of the company his grandfather founded says Brazil is the largest exporter of orange juice in the world. He credits his booming sales to Bolsonaro.

LEONEL KRAUSS: (Speaking Portuguese).

KAHN: "Sometimes he says things that some people don't like to hear, but he speaks the truth," says Krauss, whose pickup truck has a huge sticker of Bolsonaro with his campaign's catchphrase, God, Country and Family.

GUILHERME CASAROES: Such a great narrative maker.

KAHN: Guilherme Casaroes is a political analyst at a private university in Sao Paulo. He says Bolsonaro's incendiary brand of politics has polarized the electorate like never before in Brazil.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in Portuguese).

KAHN: But back in the capital, Sao Paulo, you feel the tension just bringing up Bolsonaro's name. Support for Lula da Silva is strong here. He won the city of 12 million residents with nearly 48% of the vote, mirroring his national support.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED MUSICAL ARTIST: (Singing in Portuguese).

KAHN: As a quiet samba tune plays, Heloisa Carvalho works on her laptop at a cafe in the trendy Pinheiros neighborhood. She's a 42-year-old PR consultant and says Bolsonaro is destroying Brazil.

HELOISA CARVALHO: And we are suffering. Please, people from USA help us. I'm kidding, but I'm telling the truth.

KAHN: She says da Silva, as he did when he was president back in the early 2000s, will take care of the poor, the environment and will save Brazil. Da Silva has promised to crack down on Amazon deforestation and create a ministry for Native peoples.

CARVALHO: Lula give people hope.

KAHN: She says she's very nervous about election day on Sunday. Polls suggest the contest will be very close.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.