Before reaching the opposition’s bunker on election night, Horacio Rodríguez Larreta called his exit poll coordinator to find out how the vote-counting was going. It was 8pm, November 14, and by then over 70 percent of the voting precincts of Buenos Aires Province were in. In other words, the team of Juntos Por el Cambio poll captains already had a statistically much clearer photo of how the election results would turn out ahead of the official data. They were a point ahead and the distance kept growing.
With that information in his head, the City mayor entered a bunker full of long faces. The expectations triggered by the PASO primaries had been so high. As the gap narrowed, the bunker in Costa Salguero underwent moments of confusion which Rodríguez Larreta did not get to notice. Would they be celebrating or not? The first results, before the arrival of the City Mayor, had thrown up a difference of 0.3 percent. At that point, it was all a tense wait.
Only when the official results had arrived did the celebrations start. But it is only fair to say that after the PASO primaries, the opposition celebrated more.
With his eye now on 2023 and the Casa Rosada, Rodríguez Larreta already has his 2022 planned out. It will be a year of focus on City governance, which is his style of campaigning. The mayor of the Federal Capital wishes to avoid entering into any arguments over the presidential race for now – there is still a long time to go and he prefers avoiding the wear and tear implied by any attention paid to a candidacy for the Casa Rosada. Being City mayor already gives him important visibility, permitting him constant appearances in the media or on social networks without need to refer to candidacies. Thus, while he “holds himself back” a bit, according to sources, he can follow with attention the others aspiring to the presidency. And who might they be? There are quite a few in that race already: the PRO and Radical chairs Patricia Bullrich and Alfredo Cornejo, Jujuy Radical Governor Gerardo Morales and (during the last few months) Facundo Manes. To this list might be added (and why not?) former president Mauricio Macri himself, who has yet to define what he will do.
Rivals. The link between Rodríguez Larreta and Patricia Bullrich deserves its own chapter. Throughout the campaign, the former security minister was the voice of Juntos por el Cambio’s hardliners.
In recent days, Bullrich’s annoyance with the City Mayor reached its climax when she was told that the mayor had taken an interest in a documentary on the death of the young Mapuche Rafael Nahuel, who died from a Coast Guard bullet near Lake Mascardi in Bariloche in 2017, when Bullrich was Security minister. The documentary is said to be very harsh with her handling of the episode.
Both the ex-minister and the aforementioned Morales share a certain contempt for Rodríguez Larreta which they cannot confess in public. Morales belittled him in a radio interview and the mayor preferred not to enter the ring.
Bullrich and Morales are thinking of a joint ticket for the 2023 primaries, but Rodríguez Larreta has one advantage over the inland leaders – he’s already in Buenos Aires. The country’s most viewed news channels are so centralised in the national capital that inland leaders are obliged to travel there to gain more audience. One example: Cornejo, the former governor of Mendoza, was a senatorial candidate in his province elected by a landslide, but instead of staying there to celebrate, he travelled to the Federal Capital in order to be in Rodríguez Larreta’s bunker. A curse – he has to come to Buenos Aires to be seen on Mendoza television sets.
Dispute. The leadership of Juntos Por el Cambio is under discussion. Until 2019, Mauricio Macri was clearly in command of the alliance but after his election defeat, all eyes switched to Rodríguez Larreta. This tension is nothing new for those close to either leader. Last year Macri criticised within the coalition some mayoral decisions, even accusing his City Hall heir of intended parricide.
One aspect of Rodríguez Larreta questioned by the former head of state during the harshest stage of the pandemic was having heeded all the summons of President Alberto Fernández and accompanied the government in its measures, only to end up feeling “betrayed” with a federal revenue-sharing cut. “They shat on you,” Macri reproached him. Rodríguez Larreta considered that he was in the right and defended his stance. “They’re my convictions,” he retorted.
City/Province. As for his local deployment, Rodríguez Larreta also saw his clout in the City Legislature reduced. There he lost six seats in the caucus consisting of his PRO, Radical, socialist and GEN (progressive) legislators, dropping from the current 38 to 32 as from December 10. In a 60-seat legislature, 32 makes for a tighter majority.
The factor to bear in mind was that when drawing up the lists, Rodríguez Larreta decided to give more scope to Radicals and liberals so that most of the caucus consists of allies rather than PRO legislators. This broader coalition is the facet most praised by both friends and foes. Today the mayor seeks to head that broader space, something which will help him build towards 2023.
Within that project, a key player will be Diego Santilli, Rodríguez Larreta’s probable campaign manager nationwide, as has already been commented. A role that clashes with the ambitions of ‘Colo’ to be Buenos Aires Province governor but there Santilli already has another conflict. The day after his electoral victory there had emerged at his side other internal rivals who also want to be governor: the deputy Cristian Ritondo and the mayors Jorge Macri (Vicente López), Diego Valenzuela (Tres de Febrero) and Néstor Grindetti (Lanús) are all trying on the suit. Santilli’s challenge will be to impose himself as a natural candidate or compete in the PASO primaries. A Radical hopeful is also probable but no name has emerged until now. The most competitive in recent months is Manes, the neurologist, but he has other plans.
Unity? During the electoral campaign there was one particular but almost imperceptible feature. After the PASO primaries, Juntos por el Cambio sought to show unity between the PRO and Radical wings of its coalition. After furious competition between Santilli and Manes, they covered the province side by side in the run-up to the midterms, coordinating many joint appearances in Greater Buenos Aires and inland.
Horacio Rodríguez Larreta tried to join some of those joint appearances but Manes was not in agreement. A photo of Rodríguez Larreta and Manes together in the campaign is not to be found. Why? Are they fighting? Those close to the City Mayor do not understand why Manes rejected being photographed with him. In the primary campaign, Manes attacked Rodríguez Larreta, saying: “I hope he’s not campaigning with the City’s [public] money.” The comment annoyed City Hall offices. Rodríguez Larreta preferred not to deliver a harsh response, instead ironically celebrating that Manes was now playing politics.
Rodríguez Larreta wants a Radical vice-president for 2023 but Manes does not want to be veep – he wants to be president.