"We are eternally grateful to Chavez ... we will be loyal to Chavez beyond this lifetime," a tearful Maduro said during a rally for state governors in a speech in which he invoked independence heroes, shouted triumphant slogans and then lowered his voice for dramatic effect in hallmark Chavez style.
"We are the children of Chavez."
For the first time since his 2011 diagnosis for an unspecified type of cancer, Chavez has suggested his illness could keep him from continuing his 14-year self-styled revolution. On Tuesday he underwent his fourth operation for cancer after twice declaring himself completely cured.
The possible transition generated optimism for a more moderate government after years of intransigent socialism.
Wall Street investors drawn to Venezuela's highly traded bonds, as well as oil companies seeking greater access to the world's largest crude reserves, are watching closely.
Maduro survived Chavez's mercurial micro-management and became one of the longest-lasting ministers in the frequently rotating Cabinet by executing orders and repeating anti-US rhetoric around the world.
He often appeared as a towering sidekick over Chavez's shoulder in television broadcasts.
In 1992, when Chavez was jailed for a failed coup that made him famous, Maduro took to the streets to demand his release alongside his partner Cilia Flores, who led the legal team that helped get Chavez freed within two years.