His closest rival is Workers Party candidate Fernando Haddad - a former mayor of Sao Paulo and one-time education minister.
Mr. Bolsonaro was propelled to his first-round win with the help of Brazil's enormously influential evangelical Christian churches, which love his virulently homophobic rhetoric and emphasis on "traditional" gender roles.
Bolsonaro's running mate, a retired general, has said military intervention can be justified to restore civic order and that Brazil's Constitution can be torn up and rewritten without input from citizens. The country is just going to divide even more.
While Bolsonaro was expected to come out in front Sunday, he far outperformed predictions, blazing past competitors who had more financing, the institutional backing of traditional parties and much more free air time on television.
That made Bolsonaro the odds-on favorite in a runoff election later this month that could hurl Brazil into new political territory. "Our country needs someone to take tough measures", said civil servant Orlando Senna, 33, who said his uncle served in the army with Bolsonaro.
The election was a seismic shift for this nation of more than 200 million people, where the left has won the past four elections but deep divisions have opened in the wake of a massive corruption scandal and the 2016 impeachment of then-President Dilma Rousseff.
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If Bolsonaro is to be stopped, Brazil's poorest, most disdained region will play a large part in it.
But Eduardo Bolsonaro, Jair's son, asked supporters to film themselves voting in case they faced problems, violating the law.
The tally was even higher in the presidential candidate's home state of Rio de Janeiro, where his party got almost 23 percent of votes for the lower house. This led to heated debates on social media under the hashtag #EssesNordestinos (or #ThoseNortheasterners), used by both sides.
Congressman Onyx Lorenzoni, the main political advisor to Bolsonaro, said his team was targeting individual lawmakers in parties opposed to the PT, including those in parties whose leaders do not yet support the right-winger.
Jair Bolsonaro of the "Social Liberal Party' (PSL) received 46% of ballots cast". Who altered the image is unclear, but it serves the double goal of recruiting the support of those with anti-northeastern sentiments while encouraging north-easterners to vote.
His words were a thinly veiled swipe at former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who dropped his fiery leftist rhetoric to win the presidency in 2002, dubbing himself the "Peace and Love" candidate.
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These examples reveal how the north-east (with its leftist political leanings) has become central to Brazilian politics.
The second round of the presidential elections is on October 28.
But there is a feeling of history repeating itself as well. However, the comedian didn't keep it light for long and quickly transitioned into Brazil's Sunday election, in which the country nearly elected "a risky ideologue with potentially disastrous consequences".
Something similar could happen today.
"Brazil is now surfing the wave of global conservatism, an anti-globalist movement all across the world", said Guilherme Casarões, a comparative politics professor at the Getulio Vargas Foundation, a university in Sao Paulo.
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