But even here, Silva may be losing some credibility. She said she supported gay marriage, only to reverse her position a day later (the reversal even prompted actor and environmentalist Mark Ruffalo to withdraw an unofficial endorsement). The Assemblies of God church does not officially endorse her, although several evangelical ministers—notably the megastar pastor Silas Malafaia—are promoting her campaign during sermons and to their parishioners.
And in the northeastern rural state of Paraiaba, evangelical pastor John Medcraft said that the combination of Silva's faith and social work meant that she'd have the right values if elected.
"I'll vote for Marina because she was an environmental minister and a good one," he said. "And now we're also faced with the possibility of a genuine evangelical president in this country."
Jason Plautz reported from Brazil on a fellowship from the International Reporting Project (IRP).
SAO PAULO—Even for a politician who bills herself an outsider, Marina Silva's résumé is stacked with curiosities. She grew up in a poor, rural part of Brazil and says she taught herself to read at age 16. She's a devout evangelical in a predominantly Catholic country. And she's a former environment minister who has run as a Green Party candidate.
But for all her oddities, Silva has a shot at becoming president of the world's fifth-largest country.
On Sunday, Brazil will hold the first round of its presidential election. Silva is running second in the polls behind behind incumbent Dilma Rousseff, but neither candidate appears likely to win a majority of all votes. If nobody does, the top two candidates will face off in a runoff three weeks later.
Silva's no lock to win—and her support has ebbed since a peak last month—but that she's in the running at all marks a rapid rise, given that in the beginning of August she was just a vice-presidential candidate on a ticket polling in the single digits. When the lead candidate, Eduardo Campos, was killed in a plane crash, Silva took the top spot and has elevated the prospects of the Socialist Party she now represents.
To say that a President Silva would mark a change for Brazil would be an understatement. She'd be the first black citizen to win the presidency, as well as the first evangelical president in the country with the world's largest Catholic population. And she'd mark the end of 12 years of rule by the incumbent center-left Worker's Party.
A Silva victory would also have global ramifications, particularly for the environment.
She'd be one of the few world leaders with an environmental background, and she'd be applying it to a nation that is among the world's most important climate actors. As well as being a large and rapidly growing economy, Brazil is also home to the Amazon, the world's largest rain forest, whose vegetation serves as a massive sink for carbon emissions—human and otherwise.