Candidates Sprint to Campaign Finish

PACHUCA, Mexico -- Dying? Perhaps. But the old "dinosaurio" known as the PRI is definitely not dead yet.


In a remarkable show of force, organizers for the Institutional Revolutionary Party filled a bull ring here Sunday with more than 20,000 people at a rally that would have made a U.S. grassroots activist salivate.

With exactly one week until Election Day, two of the major party candidates stumped in Pachuca, a town of about 250,000 situated about 60 miles outside of Mexico City. Campaign Conexión was there to catch liberal Andres Manuel López Obrador in the central square in the morning, followed by the PRI's Roberto Madrazo.


Calderón Takes the Offense

Meanwhile, conservative candidate Felipe Calderón, believed to be in a tight battle with López Obrador, addressed an estimated crowd of 100,000 in the Azteca soccer stadium in Mexico City.

"This July 2 we will decide between a democratic project and one of intolerance and the same authoritarianism we left behind," said Calderón, according to a Reuters report. Calderón, 43, warned that a vote for the PRD's López Obrador could thrust Mexico into a "horror movie" of debt and economic despair. A mild-mannered Harvard alum, Calderón was biting in his criticism, according to an AP report.


Felipe Calderón at the Azteca stadium in Mexico City. (AP Photo/Marco Ugarte)

''Our adversaries represent an alternative of hate and slander,'' said Calderón, the candidate of President Vicente Fox's National Action Party (PAN). ''They want to cheat Mexicans with lies that they will magically increase their wages.''

A PRI Revival in Pachuca?

As Calderón rallied supporters in Mexico City, a political double-header was playing out in Pachuca, one of the oldest mining communities in Mexico and the capital city of the state of Hidalgo. In the final weekend of campaigning, most analysts say López Obrador looks to have a razor thin lead over Calderón and, more importantly, the Big Mo (as in momentum). Campaign Conexión hates predictions and warns that nearly every survey has been within the margin of error in a country where accurate polling can be hard to pull off. (Large swaths of rural countryside, millions without telephones and a history of fraud that has frightened many from speaking candidly to pollsters.)

On this Sunday, Pachuca lived up to its nickname, "la bella airosa" or "the windy beauty." Appearing first in the central square, AMLO did not disappoint, serving up plenty of red meat and economic promises (See "Mexico ♥s AMLO" below).

But the real reason for treking to Pachuca was to examine the fundamental question of whether the once all-powerful PRI is in its last gasp. Six years ago, Fox ended 71 years of PRI presidential control and now, virtually every poll has Madrazo trailing both "enemies," as he called his opponents.

It's true, a recent cartoon sketched the mustachioed Madrazo flat on his back in a casket and his own pollster on Friday predicted a five-point win for AMLO. But the party proved Sunday it can still flex its muscle -- and spend money -- in what can only be described as a textbook display of machine politics.

Dozens of buses disgorged PRI loyalists, sporting brand new campaign T-shirts and toting the free tamale lunches they received for their attendance. Once inside the vast arena, the scene was a picture-perfect sea of PRI red.

Police directed traffic (you don't see that at an AMLO rally) and young women in smart black pants suits escorted dignitaries. Fireworks, confetti and balloons filled the air. Name tags taped in a perfect row instructed the local pols where to stand on stage. Front and center, in case there was any doubt as to who was the featured attraction, a slip of paper read: "Lic. Roberto Madrazo Pintado."


Thousands turn out for a PRI rally in Pachuca. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Madrazo, 53, has been claiming he is still very much in the fight.

A well-researched look at the women's vote in the Dallas Morning News suggests that the better sex is part of the PRI's problem.

"Less than three weeks ahead of the July 2 election, women, who are about 52 percent of registered voters, continue to drift from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which many had supported over the 71 years it governed the country," according to the story.

"'More and more, the gender difference is dissipating," said Dr. Victoria Rodríguez, dean of the graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin. "In the past, they would vote for stability and tradition and family and all that, but I think now it will be more along ideological lines, platform lines, strictly partisan lines.'"

But in Pachuca it was clear the emphasis has shifted from winning new voters to simply getting out the vote. Madrazo's 17-minute speech, delivered with the help of notecards, was nearly devoid of substance, except for his promise to create 9 million new jobs.

"Our adversaries are desperate because the final poll is here with the people," he said yelling into the microphone. "They're nervous."

He described Calderón's and Fox's PAN party as stagnant and the left as violent. "We went for the center because by going down the center we'll be going directly to the president's office."

It should have been clear to Madrazo, however, that the show of support was for his party. Few, if any, of the spanking new T-shirts sported his name and the giant banners strung from the upper decks touted PRI's down-ballot candidates such as "Melendez, Ochoa, Edmundo, Guerrero, Vega, Murillo, Apaodaza, Munoz and Moctezuma."

If that wasn't enough to send Madrazo a message, the crowd gave it to him straight. "Elections are won with votes," he called out. "And who's got the votes?"

The resounding response: "PRI."

Mexico ♥s AMLO

Across town, standing in the shadow of a statue of his political hero Benito Juárez, López Obrador served up the passion crowds like and rarely get in politics any more. Fox's party will be kicked out, López Obrador predicted, because "they lied to the people." The PAN promised change in 2000, but it was just a "trick," AMLO charged.

The "traitors," whom he did not identify, "will be left to the garbage pile of history."

An intense man of 52, López Obrador probably needs to heed the advice of his own bumper stickers that say, "Smile. We're going to win." But the fire in his belly delights crowds as it bursts out of his mouth.

"I have convictions. I have principles. I have feelings," he told more than 10,000 supporters. "I could never be a traitor to the people."

He said he traveled to Pachuca, to reiterate his myriad campaign pledges. And he did. For the 50 million Mexicans who earn less than $4 a day, it is a tempting menu -- education for all, food vouchers, pensions for the elderly and a reexamination of international trade agreements. But he himself homed in on what critics say is the flaw in his sweeping agenda.

"My adversaries say now in desperation, where's the money going to come from," he said. The former mayor of Mexico City's answer is to trim the bloated government bureaucracy, reduce the "pensions of ex-presidents," get aggressive about collecting taxes from corporations and wealthy Mexicans, and cut the president's salary in half.

"We don't want mediocre politicians and robber politicians," he declared.

López Obrador reopened a wound he first inflicted on Calderón in a debate nearly three weeks ago, when he accused Calderón's brother-in-law of securing sweetheart government contracts for his software company. Calderón has denied the charges, saying he had no role in the contracts awarded to Hildenbrando. But the tale of the "uncomfortable brother-in-law" has struck a nerve, especially among Mexico's lower and middle classes, where decades of favoritism and double standards have created deep resentments.

"It bothers him very much that I've been pointing that out," López Obrador said of his rival. "I won't have a government that allows nepotism," he said to loud cheers.

There would be no brothers, sons or brother-in-laws in an AMLO administration and if a family member received favorable treatment or committed an "infraction, they would be castigated" like any other violator, he promised.

Despite being surrounded by an obviously adoring crowd, López Obrador does not engage in much of the hand-shaking or baby-kissing that is de rigeur in the U.S. Fans drape floral wreaths around his neck, hand him hats, a basket of goodies, slips of paper and shiny trinkets. He accepts them all -- awkwardly -- and gives a nod of appreciation. But his strength seems to be in his oratory -- firm, yet accessible. None of the mumbo-jumbo of Madrazo or bureaucratese of Calderón.

Ever the politician, AMLO told supporters they should feel confident but not too confident. Between now and July 2, he said: "The task is to convince 10 more."

Striking the Immigration Chord


A curious final paragraph in a Washington Post editorial that otherwise focused on U.S. immigration policy has set off a mini firestorm in Mexico political circles (as in, made the front page). The offending paragraph:

If Mr. López Obrador wins and pursues the populist economic policies he's been associated with in the past, the flow of Mexican arrivals in the United States could accelerate. The consequences in Congress would not be pretty. The passions around immigration would grow fiercer than ever -- and the prospects for balanced legislation would get worse, not better.

AMLO and his advisers say there's no evidence to suggest his victory would trigger increased migration.

López Obrador team sent its response to Campaign Conexión:

López Obrador will invest in and develop the under-served areas of southern Mexico, reducing poverty and therefore immigration. López Obrador understands the security challenges of the United States. Mexico will do more to secure its borders in North America , to increase trade and to reduce poverty and migration.

To read the entire statement, click here.

On the subject of immigration, New York Times bureau chief Ginger Thompson, spoke at length with anchor Calvin Sims.

"The way that Mexicans view the United States, particularly compared to other Latin American countries, becomes clear in the presidential campaigns that are under way," she said in a podcast. "These campaigns have not been full of the same strident anti-American rhetoric that you heard in Peru, that you have heard in Venezuela, that you have heard in Argentina. All three of the major candidates have said that they would seek a close relationship with the United States, that they would seek a relationship of respect with the United States."

Only three more days left of official campaigning -- then all the speeches and ads and polls "go dark" and campaign worker bees start knocking on doors and driving Mexicans to the polls. To close out the race, Campaign Conexión will host a live chat with representatives from each of the three major campaigns, beginning today at 2 p.m.

Antojitos: Mexico's Win-Win Race?

It's a win-win situation down here south of the border, according to The New York Times editorial page. Although the two frontrunners in Mexico's presidential race have starkly different agendas, personalities and records, The Times likes them both. A win for democracy either way.

By washingtonpost.com |  June 26, 2006; 11:04 AM ET  | Category:  Campaign Conexión
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