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Venezuela's star-studded mayoral ballots: Singers, baseball players, and models

Many are calling Sunday's contest the first major electoral test for Nicolás Maduro's administration, as it faces sky-high inflation, and a long list of economic woes. Can star power lend a hand?

By Andrew RosatiCorrespondent / December 6, 2013

Venezuela's President Nicolás Maduro arrives at a meeting with ministers and lawmakers of the National Assembly at Miraflores Palace in Caracas on Wednesday.

Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

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Caracas

While local elections are not usually high-profile affairs, Venezuela's municipal elections this year have taken on a decidedly red carpet air.

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The government's United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) is showcasing a slew of celebrities – from Major League Baseball players to pop stars – as it tries to hold on to its sliding popularity ahead of municipal elections.

Many are calling Sunday's contest the first major electoral test for Nicolás Maduro's administration, as it faces sky-high inflation and a long list of economic woes. With 337 mayoral posts up for grabs, high-profile PSUV candidates have their names on the ballots in a number of crucial cities across the country.

Among the celebrity candidates are retired MLB All-Star Magglio Ordóñez, who is running for mayor of the coastal city Puerta La Cruz, and former model and host of a reality-TV hit Winston Vallenilla, who is seeking to win over voters in the Caracas suburb of Baruta. Running to be mayor of the working-class municipality of Sucre in Caracas is baseball-turned-reggaeton sensation Antonio 'El Potro' (the Colt) Álvarez.

Celebrity candidates are certainly nothing new in Venezuela; the late Hugo Chávez beat out a former Miss Universe, Irene Sáez, in his first bid for the presidency.

Still, a ticket packed with a who's who of pop culture is turning heads.

A single famous name on a political ballot "is something that you see maybe, at the most, once a year," says Emilio Bolívar, a computer-engineering student speaking a few days before elections. "But when you see so many, it's surprising."

Some here are left wondering if star power can actually translate into an election victory. In the case of Mr. Vallenilla, a former teen heart throb, "he's seen here as a sex symbol," says Sarai Lemos, a university student.

"He's trying to change his image now," Ms. Lemos says. "But I'm not sure people are ready for it."

El Potro's campaign finale drew thousands supporters this week when another reggaeton star, Don 'El Rey' Omar, came out to stump for the mayoral hopeful.

Salsa-blared and women screamed as the candidate took the stage. Some critics have been quick to dismiss the seriousness of the celebrity campaigners, characterizing them as opportunists.

Despite these doubts, not everyone is quick to count out these rookie politicians.

"You don't need experience to be a politician, what's important is initiative and motivation," says Jonathan Medina, an off-duty police officer who came out to support the former Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder, El Potro.

"Besides," Mr. Medina says. "He's playing for a good team, [The PSUV]"

[Editor's note: Due to a production error, an earlier version of this story misstated the day of the election.]

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