She started out as a teenage mother working as a newspaper secretary, then spent decades of revolution, conflict, power and public scandal at the side of one of the region’s most influential men. Now the first lady of Nicaragua, Rosario Murillo, has succeeded in doing something that seems more like a plotline out of the Netflix series “House of Cards”: She will be on the Nov. 6 ballot to become vice president. Her running mate? Her husband, President Daniel Ortega. The election, in which the couple’s victory and Mr. Ortega’s third consecutive term are all but certain, is a critical step in what people around Ms. Murillo describe as her decades-long climb to power. She paved the way by helping the poor and winning over the public, but also by holding political grudges and pushing aside nearly all the members of her husband’s inner circle. “Denying something to my mother is a declaration of war,” her daughter Zoilamérica Ortega said. But in many ways, the first lady’s spot on the presidential ticket is an acknowledgment of the role she already plays in the country.
“She’s not the vice president; she’s the co-president,” said Agustín Jarquín, who ran for vice president on Mr. Ortega’s ticket in 2001 but was kicked out of the National Assembly without notice once he fell from favor.
Ms. Murillo, 65, is already a de facto cabinet member, deeply involved in every aspect of the government. She is the one who gives daily news briefings about the latest earthquake or damage from an industrial fire. If a child has Zika, Ms. Murillo knows the boy’s name and might just call the parents herself. She meets regularly with municipal leaders and makes it clear that decisions cannot be made without her approval.
“It’s not that she has as many followers as her husband — she has more,” said Florencia del Carmen López, 48, a street vendor. “The men are annoyed by it. The majority of her followers are women.”