With Spain's [WORD ILLEGIBLE] free legislative elections only [WORD ILLEGIBLE] away, a calculating 35-year-old socialists who was a political outlaw [WORD ILLEGIBLE] years has emerged as the most exciting vote-getter in a surprisingly fame campaign.
The nationwide drive by Felipe GOzalez, general secretary of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party, appears to be so effective that most published political polls now indicate that the recently legalized party is second in the race to give Spain its first democratic parliament since the 1936-39 Civil War.
Still a strong first - but apparently running scared - is the Center Democratic Union, the moderate coalition headed by Premier Adolfo Suarez.
The government's own political surveys, which are closely studied by the premier and key aides but not released to the people, reportedly confirm that the Socialist Workers Party is surging fast. Credit for the growing strenght is given to Gonzalez and his studiedly folksy campaign.
What is remarkable about Gonzalez is that he has boosted his party without resort to television. The government, which controls the country's TV networks, has severely restricted the screen's political use in the campaign, which opened May 24.
This forced Gonzalez to go directly to the people. He has appeared at dozens of party meetings - usually tieless and in a checked shirt. He speaks in generalities, in slogans. He equates "socialism" and "liberty." He urges fiscal reform and free education, and declares that the Parliament to be elected next Wednesday must write a "democratic constitution."
He often attacks the right and the premier's party - but with kid gloves. He has let it be known that his favorite reading is Don Quixote's advice on how to govern.
"We're going to win," he repeats over and over again. The upbeat mood has caught on. A Madrid housewife who had planned to vote for Suarez now says she's going to cast her ballot for "Felipe." Her husband has switched, too. Their reason: "Most of our friends are turning to Gonzalez. He's more like us."
Analysts contend that many of the undecided voters - who have dropped from 57 to 31 per cent in the past two weeks - have opted for Gonzalez and his Socialist Workers. Suarez had expected to get the majority of those who could not make up their minds, mainly because of his record as the political leader who dismantled the Franco dictatorship and made the election possible.
Even though Gonzalez speaks of victory, he does not expect to win more than 70 of the 350 parliamentary seats at stake. He says he believes, however, that 25 per cent of Spain's 23.6 million voters will cast their ballots for the country's oldest political party on June 15. This could give the combined left - including Communists - as many as 110 seats. While a leftist bloc of this size would not be large enough to dominate the Parliament, it could force Suarez to seek allies to his right if he fails to win a majority.
Gonzalez appeal has surprises many Spanish political experts, who did not expect his party to do at all well in the campaign. The party - Spain's biggest pre-Civil War political force, and backbone of the Republic Franco defeated - appeared weak and divided. But Gonzalez, who first made his mark as a labor lawyer in Seville, has mended the party's fences with its labor affiliate and reorganized its leadership in the three years since he ousted the exiles who had run the party from France since 1939.
Spanish politicians had put Gonzalez down as a "political lightweight" who insisted on sticking to the Socialist Workers' Party's traditional stand for a republican form on government. The general secretary, however, has not attacked King Juan Carlos, with whom he recently had a two-hour meeting. He has let his colleagues push the party's republicanism.
But when forced to talk about a choice between a republic and a monarchy, he carefully answers "This decision must be made by the people." He has refused to follow the Communist lead of accepting the monarchy.
Gonzalez and the Socialist Workers have been helped by these factors:
Premier Suarez decision to refrain from active campaigning.
The heated debate between Manuel Fraga, leader of the rightist Popular Alliance Party, and Communist Party chief Santiago Carrillo. The Name-calling between the Francoist former minister and the Euro-Communist has given Gonzalez and his party a moderate image that is pleasing to many Spaniards.
The advice and financial help of Western European Socialists. They have given the Socialist Workers an international scope that carries weight among voters who regard Spain as part of Europe.
The Socialists' refusal to join forces with the Communists.
The tendency of a politically-starved people, who at last can go to political meetings and hear forbidden ideas, to accept general statements as a substitute for issues and answers.