Brazil Senate head switches party, eyeing 2022 presidential bid

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President of Brazil's Senate Pacheco attends Social Democratic Party membership ceremony in Brasilia

BRASILIA – Brazilian Senate leader Rodrigo Pacheco joined the center-right Social Democratic Party (PSD) on Wednesday, emerging as the latest presidential hopeful eyeing a tough path down the center of next year’s polarized electoral field.

Party leader Gilberto Kassab, who has said the PSD is looking to field its own candidate in 2022, said Pacheco has “great potential” to draw support from Brazilians turned off by both leftist former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and far-right incumbent Jair Bolsonaro.

Neither of the two has officially declared his candidacy, but opinion polls show seven in 10 Brazilians would pick one or the other as their first choice for president, with surveys showing Lula with a comfortable lead at the moment.

Pacheco, 44, a senator from the mining state of Minas Gerais, is considered a political conciliator who backs economic reforms, fiscal responsibility and improved social welfare for Brazil’s poor.

He joined the PSD at a ceremony attended by dozens of politicians at a museum dedicated to former Brazilian President Juscelino Kubitschek, the centrist governor of Minas Gerais who built the capital Brasilia during a 1956-1961 term marked by economic prosperity and political stability.

Pacheco will join a field of almost a dozen hopefuls presenting themselves as alternatives to Lula and Bolsonaro.

With the elections still one year away, a PoderData poll last month showed Pacheco with just 4% of voter preferences, less than center-leftist Ciro Gomes, former Health Minister Henrique Mandetta and Sao Paulo Governor Joao Doria.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)