Honduran Liberal Party presidential candidate Mauricio Villeda had a good week. On Sunday, he received the official backing of former President Carlos Roberto Flores (1998-2002) -- perhaps the biggest behind-the-scenes power player within the party and one of the relatively few politicians in Honduras with real gravitas. In a speech given at a party gathering at the Honduras Maya hotel in Tegucigalpa, Mr. Flores offered Mr. Villeda praise and referred to him as the person "who the country needs."
Also, a number of new public opinion polls have come out showing Mr. Villeda in a not-so-distant third place, behind Juan Orlando Hernández of the National Party and Xiomara Castro de Zelaya of the Libre Party. In at least one poll, Mr. Villeda came in first with 34.8 percent, and in almost all recent polls he tends to rate highest in terms of favorability and lowest in disfavorability. While Mr. Hernández is now generally viewed as the frontfunner, with Mrs. Zelaya second but somewhat stagnant, Mr. Villeda appears to be steadily picking up ground. With less than a month now until the election, Mr. Villeda may peak at about the right time.
It is widely believed that the key to this presidential contest are the uncommitted and independent voters, which currently make up an estimated one-quarter of the electorate. These are people who probably will not vote for Mr. Hernández or Mrs. Zelaya. While some of these voters may vote for one of the four minor candidates -- Romeo Vásquez, Andrés Pavón, Jorge Aguilar, or Orle Solís, most are likely to vote for either Mr. Villeda or Salvador Nasralla of the Anti-Corruption Party (PAC).
Fortunately for Mr. Villeda, Mr. Nasralla had a very bad week. Mr. Nasralla, who is known for being blunt and provocative, has been involved in several tasteless public exchanges with leading members of the National Party, including Ricardo Álvarez and Rigoberto Chang Castillo, due to accusations of corruption lobbed by Mr. Nasralla. Most recently, on Wednesday, Mr. Nasralla was involved in a nasty personal confrontation with Andrés Pavón of the UD-FAPER Party at a presidential forum organized by the University of Honduras. The incident, which nearly turned into a brawl, resulted in both Mr. Nasralla and Mr. Pavón being ushered out of the auditorium.
It's unclear what impact such unpleasant episodes are having on Mr. Nasralla's campaign, but it's a good bet that they've not helped the candidate's image with undecided and independent voters, who are often among the most thoughtful and discerning of the electorate. If so, then Mr. Villeda stands to benefit most, and the contest suddenly just got much tighter.