SAO PAULO - Brazil's political landscape was being redrawn Thursday, a day after a small plane crash killed a top presidential candidate, possibly complicating President Dilma Rousseff's effort to win re-election in October.
The late Eduardo Campos' Socialist Party was widely expected to declare his running mate, Marina Silva, one of the country's most popular politicians, as its presidential candidate in the coming days.
"If she runs, it becomes a more competitive race. It increases the likelihood of a runoff happening," said Joao Augusto de Castro Neves, Latin America director for the Eurasia Group consulting firm. "It would be a pretty close race to see who is going to be the runner-up."
The other main candidate, Aecio Neves, has been running a strong second after Rousseff in polls. The election had been shaping up to be a two-candidate race, leaving Campos out of the runoff. But experts are now saying the next polls could show Silva, a former environment minister and presidential candidate, leading Neves, and possibly setting the two female politicians head to head in a second-round election.
Silva "could be the springboard needed to overcome the tragedy and become a viable candidate in a second round," wrote Paula Cesarino Costa, a columnist for the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo.
Campos' plane smashed into a white-collar neighborhood in the port city of Santos on Wednesday, killing the 49-year-old politician, four of his aides and two pilots. It put campaigns on hold as politicians avoided any comments about the Oct. 5 election so they would not be seen as insensitive.
Silva, 56, hasn't commented about who might take over as the Brazilian Socialist Party nominee. Aides said she was seeing only friends on Thursday and the decision on whether she would step in would have to wait.
Brazilian law gives parties 10 days to choose a substitute in the case of a candidate's death. The party could still choose another candidate or decide not to run, throwing its support to another candidate.
A longtime evangelical Christian, Silva surprisingly won about 20 percent of the votes when she ran for president as the Green Party candidate in 2010. She joined Campos' ticket in October after she was unable to set up her own party in time to run again for president.
Along with garnering a possible sympathy vote, Silva could exploit dissatisfaction among Brazilians, some experts said. She gained a strong base after the mass protests that swept Brazil last year and won international praise for her efforts in helping preserve the Amazon rainforest as environment minister.
Rousseff, the hand-picked successor of former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has seen her popularity flag in recent months amid slowing economic growth, high taxes and poor public services - although she has remained the strongest candidate. A survey by the Ibope polling agency released over the weekend said 38 percent of those questioned supported Rousseff, while 23 percent were for Neves and 9 percent backed Campos. The margin of error was two percentage points.
A day after the small plane traveling from Rio de Janeiro to the city of Guaruja went down, firefighters and investigators were still picking through the wreckage of the crash that damaged more than 10 buildings and also slightly injured at least five people on the ground.
The state agency that oversees most of the nation's airports, Infraero, said the same aircraft, a Cessna 560XL, had reported "technical problems" that forced the pilot to abort a takeoff two months ago in the southern city of Londrina. Campos at the time told a congressman the plane had an electrical problem that forced him to delay travel plans for a day.
Officials have said the plane was trying to land in bad weather, but a federal investigation has yet to determine the cause of the crash.
An investigator from the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board arrived today in Santos, Brazil, to assist in the investigation.
Because the accident involves a U.S. manufactured aircraft, under the provisions of the International Civil Aviation Organization's Annex 13, the Aeronautical Accidents Investigation and Prevention Center (CENIPA) of Brazil notified the NTSB. Accordingly, the NTSB designated Senior Air Safety Investigator Tim Monville as the U.S. accredited representative. He is accompanied by technical advisors from the Federal Aviation Administration and the Cessna Aircraft Company.