In a crowded square of the biggest shantytown in Caracas, President Hugo Chavez's reelection campaign wheels are spinning. But a bit like a movie missing its star, the president is not on the trail.
Aides to the flamboyant Chavez -- Latin America's most prominent leftist leader, who is seeking reelection to a third consecutive six-year term -- insist that any talk of replacing him is a non-starter.
The former paratrooper has stayed largely out of public view for several recent weeks as he recovers from cancer treatment.
Chavez, who before his illness dominated national airwaves for hours on end, sometimes speaking and even singing on state media almost around the clock, has become conspicuous in his relative absence ahead of the October 7 election. The silence has fueled speculation, rumors and doubts.
And the government has been very sparing in its release of details about the president's illness, including why he sought treatment in ally Communist Cuba when he could have been treated here or indeed anywhere.
Chavez, 57, has until June 11 to register as a presidential candidate formally -- and has not said when he will do so.
Just 40 kilometers (25 miles) away, Chavez's main rival in the race is hard at work against a sort of phantom foe with a long shadow.
Henrique Capriles is a pragmatic center-leftist who cuts a picture of contrast as an energetic 39-year-old. He has been campaigning door-to-door in Catia la Mar, an impoverished Caribbean coast town.
For the past four months, Capriles has been on a "listening tour" of the South American nation, going all-in for group hugs, broad smiled and underscoring that, unlike Chavez, he is there with the people.
In Sucre Square in the Petare slum, Chavez supporters try to rev up the crowd with a taped version of the president singing the national anthem.
Chavez is supposed to be the focus of the event. In fact, it is being headlined by Vice President Elias Jaua.
And for many ruling party supporters, dressed in a sea of revolutionary red, Jaua is all they have for now.
"The supreme (national) interest is Chavez's victory," Jaua said, urging each supporter to personally ensure that 10 people vote to reelect Chavez.
For the government, preserving what it sees as the achievements of a socialist "revolution" are at stake. And Jaua argues that "political hegemony" is needed in the legislature to lock in Venezuela's progress on its revolutionary path.
"There are so many things that we have to defend," the vice president said, claiming that Capriles will revoke social benefits Chavez has given the poor of this oil-rich nation.
Getting into campaign attack mode is not considered Jaua's natural forte, unlike Chavez.
But with the president sidelined in recent months, his team has had to fill the charismatic president's big shoes.
"We ourselves, the people, are Commander Chavez. He is here with us," said Alicia Chacon, a Venezuelan former government worker who was recently trained in Cuba to work as a pro-government social activist in Venezuela.
Ironically, her words are nearly identical to those used by Cuban authorities in official state media after revolutionary icon Fidel Castro took ill in 2006 following more than five decades in power and eventually stepped aside, raising questions about whether his death might mean the end of the "revolution."
"God put Chavez there for us, and I think he will heep him there," said Ransa Rio, who plans to vote for the president. "He is the president of the poor. I wrote to him several times, and thanks to him, I have my house."
Capriles, in Catia la Mar, spoke with locals in slums without running water or toilets.
"I live in a neighborhood that always used to be pro-Chavez," said Romulo Delgado, a retiree. "Now, people tell me quietly that they are going to vote for Capriles."