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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Special elections will be held in Venezuela tomorrow. Of course, Nicolas Maduro succeeded Hugo Chavez after his death last March as acting president. And Mr. Maduro is invoking Chavez's voice and image to try to keep the late president's socialism in power perhaps for many years to come. NPR's Juan Forero has the story from Caracas.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in foreign language)

JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: The song sung at the campaign rally sung by thousands of pro-government supporters says it all. I swear to you, Chavez, my vote is for Maduro.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Singing in foreign language)

FORERO: That's Nicolas Maduro, the 50-year-old former bus driver and Chavez confidant, who became interim president last month. That was after Chavez, who transformed this country in 14 years of rule, died following a long battle with cancer. The sympathy vote has given Maduro a huge advantage over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles, and most polls show the interim president with a big lead. But Maduro is taking no chances - and that means using the Chavez card.

NICOLAS MADURO: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Maduro went on state television to explain how the late president came to him from the grave in the form of a songbird. He made flapping sounds, explaining that the bird then began to sing.

(SOUNDBITE OF WHISTLING)

MADURO: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: So, I sang too, Maduro said. The bird looked at me in a strange way, sang some more, circled around and flew away. Maduro says he then felt Chavez's spirit and that the bird had blessed him. Some in Venezuela ridiculed the story as crass politicking. Among many of Chavez's followers, though, the story had an impact.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

FORERO: Daniela Paz is a 33-year-old street vendor who says Chavez was like a father figure to Venezuelans.

DANIELA PAZ: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: I didn't think see anything funny about it, she says about Chavez coming to Maduro in the form of a bird. She says what's perfectly clear is that Chavez wanted Maduro to lead the country.

PAZ: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Since we love Chavez, we do what Chavez says. So, onward with El Comandante and with Maduro. Maduro is imposing, wears a bushy mustache and is not a seasoned campaigner. In other words, on the stump, he's very different from Chavez, who forged a near-religious bond with followers. But Maduro tries hard to be the populist. There are warnings of American destabilization plans, and a message that the country's self-styled revolution has brought dignity and sovereignty to Venezuela.

MADURO: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Maduro also asked the crowds who they want in the Miraflores presidential palace: the son of Chavez - that's him - or the oligarchy.

MADURO: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: Mariela Duran, who is 36 and came to Caracas from miles away for a Maduro rally, says she's sold on Maduro. To her, he means the continuation of Chavez - and to her, Chavez made Venezuela a better country. Polls show people like her are likely to give Maduro a six-year term and hand defeat to Capriles, who proposes ending what Chavez called 21st-century socialism.

MARIELA DURAN: (Foreign language spoken)

FORERO: It's not just because Chavez told us to vote for Maduro, says Duran. It's because we want a country where the resources are ours, that they belong to our children. And we don't want the opposition to return. Juan Forero, NPR News, Caracas.

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