"In the eyes of most of the people, he is strong": Inside Putin's assured election victory

MOSCOW -- The choreography of Vladimir Putin's big Moscow campaign rally was flawless: The grand entrance, the patriotic speech and finally the national anthem. But the real staging of Putin's campaign began months ago, when the Kremlin approved the opposition to create the illusion of a real race.

Seven candidates from a fiery nationalist to a prominent socialite are all allowed to run -- but not to win.  

The Russians have a term for it "managed democracy." 

CBS News caught up with the Communist candidate Pavel Grudinin, one of the characters in the charade. When asked why he is bothering to run without a chance to win, he said "I don't agree, I have a chance."

Putin didn't even show up for the candidates debates, which were more reality TV than serious politics. For example, when the nationalist candidate told the only woman running  to shut up, she flung water at him.

By contrast, Putin's tough, masculine image plays well with voters.

"In the eyes of most of the people, he is strong," said one woman. 

Nina, who lived through the chaotic 1990s. She said Putin has restored their self-respect.

Another woman, Olga, said she is proud of her country.

There is one man who might have given Putin a run for his money in this election, Alexei Navalny, an anti-corruption activist who was harassed in the election run-up. He was ultimately barred from the race.

In fact, Putin's main enemy in this election is apathy. The Kremlin is worried that millions of Russians, disillusioned won't bother to vote.

  • Elizabeth Palmer

    Elizabeth Palmer has been a CBS News correspondent since August 2000. She has been based in London since late 2003, after having been based in Moscow (2000-03). Palmer reports primarily for the "CBS Evening News."