Petzner looks elated. Afterward, when the CD of the song, with the candidate's smiling face on the cover, is handed out, it is Petzner's autograph everyone wants scrawled across it. Maybe he's feeling the love, or maybe it's the successive glasses of champagne, beer, and a coffee-liqueur concoction—a tray of which he delivered to a darts team in the back room, just before the men hoisted him, legs splayed, into their air—but something makes Petzner want to brag. "I am the spin doctor," he says brazenly as he flops onto a leather banquette. "I make the slogans, I make pictures. I have no advertising agency here that helps me." When I tell Petzner that his father, a modest farmer, must be proud, he snaps, "Proud is not important to me. Not at all."

A shy, unkempt woman in her forties approaches and, smiling, slips Petzner a handwritten poem—an ode to Haider. Petzner looks uneasy. While the ghost of Haider haunts the proceedings, most of the revelers have had the good taste not to talk to Petzner directly about him. In fact, every person here seems to dismiss the affair as a media misunderstanding. This is the fiction by which the far right's faithful live, with which they are able to canonize Haider and embrace Petzner. But the poem is troubling, a hit to the solar plexus. It begins, "He fell from the sky. It is dark as night because he is not here." Petzner nods, head bowed, as he reads, and mumbles, "Yes, yes, yes."

Stefan Petzner grew up one of five children of a livestock farmer in rural Styria, the province north of Carinthia. In 1987, when Petzner was 7, there was a party in his village. A limo stopped by and out stepped Jörg Haider, who had recently risen to national prominence. In those days, while in his mid-thirties, Haider projected a virile, gregarious Everyman image, and Petzner was instantly taken with him. "Even today, I can still remember that big car," Petzner recalled wistfully in a TV appearance after Haider's death. "Then I shook his hand."

Petzner eventually left his village of around 1,000 people for the University of Klagenfurt, some 70 miles to the south, where he studied communications. "He was very engaged, a very intense debater," says Rainer Winter, director of the communications program.

But Petzner cut an odd, sometimes out-of-place figure among the school's 8,000 students with his suits, bristle of blond hair, and coterie of doting female friends. Petzner has a wispy, halting voice. He does not possess a quick intelligence or a politician's knack for fellowship. It's easy to see how extreme-right politics, which his father had espoused and which was having a resurgence in Austria thanks to Haider, offered a safe haven for Petzner. He joined a campus chapter of Haider's party and eventually became its general secretary.