Calderón Dips Into PAN's Deep Pockets
A sign of concern? Or just flexing its muscles?
The party, known by its Spanish acronym PAN, has skimmed 150,000 pesos from each down-ballot contender to divert more than 54 million pesos to Calderón's campaign. The money is for a final, massive ad buy before the July 2 voting.
Calderón, the conservative, Harvard-educated candidate who promises to continue the policies of Vicente Fox, has been spending more than his opponents on television and radio advertising, according to El País, a daily published in Spain.
Polls and analysts on the ground say the race between Calderón and Andrés Manuel López Obrador is too close to call. (Few people give the PRI's Roberto Madrazo or the two other candidates much of a chance.)
In the end, it may well come down to turnout, S. Lynne Walker wrote in the San Diego Union-Tribune: "A long, negative campaign marred by personal attacks has confused voters who are not accustomed to this dark side of democracy. The charges have divided the country - and even families - over who should be Mexico's next president. Now, 40 percent of the nation's 71 million registered voters say they may not vote at all."
Campaign Conexion One-on-One
Turnout is one reason political scientist Kathleen Bruhn thinks Calderón might pull out a victory.
Calderón's supporters are "the type of voters that turn out," she said in an interview. "They tend to be the better-educated, better off financially."
The PAN, Bruhn explained, is similar to the Republican Party in America -- it has fewer registered voters but manages to get them out in higher percentages on most election days.
"If the poor are enthusiastic enough to turn out, then López Obrador wins big," said Bruhn, a professor at the University of California who is author of two books and numerous articles on Mexico.
The voting group to watch, she said, is the growing contingent of independents. It's no coincidence that campaign banners decorating Mexico City and the countryside often have little or no mention of political party. Skepticism toward political parties is a "continental trend," according to Bruhn's analysis of the region.
The growing numbers of independent voters "makes the Mexican election more volatile, more susceptible to" last-minute appeals, campaign ads and news coverage, Bruhn said.
Bruhn has been traveling in Latin America for nearly two decades, tracing political movements. In Mexico for the final few weeks of the campaign, she senses the time is ripe for a challenge of the results. If the outcome is close, particularly if López Obrador is trailing by a narrow margin, she said a recount, court fight or protests in the streets are possible. The PRD, she noted, "has had elections stolen from them so many times" they may be itching for a fight.
Stumping in Monterrey, the business capital of Mexico, López Obrador once again raised the specter of Calderón's "uncomfortable brother-in-law" Diego Zavala, the executive who allegedly profited from Calderón's government position.
AMLO, as López Obrador is known here, told a sea of supporters that most entrepreneurs don't use family influence to secure work. Take that!
The Zavala story dominated almost an entire page of El Universal Tuesday. The PRD reportedly released "new evidence" that Zavala's company, Hildebrando, landed favorable government contracts. The firm's Web site touts "successful" contracts with a number of government agencies.
Calderón's party, the PAN, continues to hit López Obrador with charges that the former Mexico City mayor is capitalizing on friends and resources in city government to assist his campaign. But this story looks to be wearing thin. Reporter Carlos Aviles Allende opens a piece in El Universal by noting that the PAN did not provide any new information or copies of the "supposed official documents." Is that media skepticism we hear?
In the home stretch, Calderón has taken a low-key approach, spending time planting a tree (part of his schtick) and autographing his book, "The Disobedient Son." The title plays off two central moments in his life, the first when he decided to stick with the PAN after his father renounced it, and the second when he bolted the Fox administration and secured the PAN nomination over Fox's chosen candidate.
Calderón opened his campaign playing off that independent, dare we say squeaky clean, image.
"Calderón, 43, is a man of contrasts--a conservative whose campaign theme is "the disobedient son," a self-proclaimed Mr. Clean who has run what some consider a dirty campaign, a Fox ally who embraces and distances himself from the departing president at the same time," writes Hugh Dellios in the Chicago Tribune. "While some see Calderón as too young and inexperienced to be president, others say he appears too old and serious to be so young. One ally nicknamed him "the young grandpa."
The designation El Hijo Desobediente may not be the wisest choice, Reforma columnist Miguel Angel Granados Chapa argued recently (link by subscription only). A song in Mexico of the same name recounts the unfortunate demise of said son, not the sort of omen most candidates are looking for.
For his part, Calderón has been talking up plans for a "coalition" government. At one campaign stop, he suggested the time for partisan politics has passed and "this is the hour of Mexico."
Fellow blogger Ana Maria Salazar, who also hosts radio and television programs in Mexico City, says anyone following the election should "keep an eye on Oaxaca. The dissident teachers of Oaxaca extended their strike till after July 2, and blamed the Oaxaca government of not fulfilling its promises, such as canceling the temporary restraining orders against the magisterial leaders."
The large and lengthy teachers' strike in one of Mexico's most rebellious regions does not directly relate to the presidential campaign. But there are hints it could affect the race.
The Los Angeles Times traveled to Oaxaca to check out the situation: "Most teachers in the state earn $600 to $700 per month. Many teachers complain of government corruption in a state still dominated by the Institutional Revolutionary Party [Madrazo's party], which until 2000 had ruled Mexico for seven decades as a virtual one-party nation." Coincidence? Back-in-the-pack Madrazo canceled an event in Oaxaca for today.
So how does a strike in one Mexican state stand to tip the election? The nation's 1.5 million teachers are like the Teamsters Union in the states, said Octavio Pescador, a UCLA professor born and raised in Mexico City. They are relatively poor and traditionally turn out in large numbers. "If they vote with their heart and ideology, López Obrador" will have a wide margin, Pescador told washingtonpost.com. He expects Lopez Obrador to capitalize on the Oaxaca unrest and make a pitch to frustrated teachers "part of his final push."
Campaign Conexion hits the campaign trail Wednesday. I'll be in Queretaro for an AMLO rally. Stay tuned.
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