Brazil steel baron ready to be leftist’s running mate – source

BRASILIA/SAO PAULO: Brazilian presidential candidate Ciro Gomes has sounded out steelmaking tycoon Benjamin Steinbruch as a possible vice presidential running mate in October and he would join the ticket if invited, a person close to Steinbruch told Reuters.

Such a ticket joining the centre-left populist from northeast Brazil with a billionaire industrialist family from the wealthier southeast would be expected to boost Brazilian national industry with strong state backing if elected.

FILE PHOTO: Pre-candidate for Brazil’s Presidency Ciro Gomes, attends a presidential debate in

Steinbruch is the chief executive of Cia Siderúrgica Nacional SA, Brazil’s second-largest steel company, and a member of its controlling shareholder bloc. He recently joined the centre-right Progressive Party, which could back Gomes, the former governor of Ceará.

"Ciro sounded him out directly," said the source, who is close to the businessman. "Nothing has been decided, but if Steinbruch is invited, he will accept. He feels very honoured."

Steinbruch recently took leave form his position as vice president of the powerful Sao Paulo industrial lobby FIESP with a view to running for public office.

He fits the profile of the running mate Gomes has said he wants. The two men have known each other for three decades. Gomes was a CSN director for two years until May 2016 and ran Transnordestina Logística, a subsidiary building a railway to carry iron ore and grain to northeastern ports.

Cid Gomes, the candidate’s brother and informal campaign manager, said Steinbruch fits the bill, but no decision would be taken until alliances with other parties are settled. The brothers’ Democratic Labor Party (PDT) is seeking to build a broader coalition for the race.

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"Ciro has said that his vice presidential running mate should be someone from industry in southern Brazil," Cid Gomes told Reuters.

With former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva barred from the October election due to a corruption conviction, Ciro Gomes is well placed to become the standard bearer of Brazil’s left.

He is running third in early polling, with 10 percent of voter support, trailing environmentalist Marina Silva, who has 15 percent, and far-right Congressman Jair Bolsonaro, with 19 percent, according to pollster Datafolha.

Gomes has said he is seeking the support of the Brazilian Socialist Party (PSB), another centre-left party with strong northeastern roots that might ask for a place on the ticket.

Steinbruch would accept a cabinet position as industry minister if he is not asked to be running mate, the source said.

(Reporting by Lisandra Paraguassú and Alberto Alerigi; Writing by Anthony Boadle; Editing by David Gregorio)