López Obrador: Back on Top?
A bunch of polls showing Andrés Manuel López Obrador holding a razor-thin margin in Mexico's presidential election has triggered a fresh wave of profiles of the man often described as this country's political "rock star."
To hear some talk, the former Mexico City mayor is the devil incarnate, a wild leftist, brimming with vinegar. Picking up on a theme struck effectively by the Felipe Calderón camp, Britain's Independent puts López Obrador directly in line with Evo Morales and Hugo Chavez, Latin America's best-known firebrands.
The Los Angeles Times has a long, colorful look at his candidacy, giving readers a good feel for what it's like to be on the stump with AMLO.
"His is an undeniably populist vision of Mexico's problems," writes Hector Tobar. "He makes the crowd laugh and hiss as he strikes out at favorite punching bags, such as former President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, reviled by many as a symbol of corruption, or the banker Roberto Hernandez, one of the richest men in Mexico."
It turns out, the white-haired, 53-year-old has some Bill Clinton-style sex appeal.
"From the Indian villages near the Guatemalan border to the barrios of Tijuana, he revels in oddities of local protocol," the piece continues. "They give him silly belts to wear in Jalisco and crowns of pink roses in Chiapas, and he never hesitates to put them on. Very often, women float near the front of his rallies wearing yellow T-shirts emblazoned with the catch phrase, "Andres Manuel, you are my rooster!"
Campaign Conexion One-on-One
One analyst who believes a López Obrador victory is entirely possible is Dan Lund, president of Mund Americas, a polling firm based in Mexico City. If the final sprint to the July 2 election continues on its current path, Lund said, López Obrador could win by 5 or 6 percentage points -- "a big if," he cautioned in an interview with Campaign Conexion.
Lund, who did surveys for López Obrador from 1996 to 2000, said stereotypes of the two frontrunners are off base.
"Felipe, ironically, is volatile, mercurial and has a nasty temper," said Lund, over breakfast at the Mexico City institution, Saks. "López Obrador is a tough nut, not easy to get along with. But a loss of temper is rare."
Both leaders "share a common targeting strategy" of going after centrist voters, particularly the growing number of Mexicans who list themselves as "independent" or unaffiliated with any political party. They tend to be younger, lower middle class, female and with "intense aspirations for upward mobility," Lund said. (Here's a link to a June 14 Mund Americas analysis of the Mexican election.)
In 2000, many of these voters split their tickets, for Fox in the presidential contest and López Obrador as mayor. "This time they have to choose" between the Fox stand-in -- Calderón -- and López Obrador.
Several surveys indicate these voters have migrated back and forth over the past several months, but have been trending recently toward López Obrador. On the other hand, Calderón benefits from the money and powerful infrastructure of the PAN, Lund said.
The big mystery, to Lund and other observers here, is why the Calderón camp was knocked for a loop by the corrupt brother-in-law charges. After all, it's Politics 101 to "investigate yourself" before the opposition does it for you. Yet Calderón's team has been slow in deflecting accusations that his brother-in-law's software company profited handsomely from government contracts.
Regardless of whether the charges are true, Lund and other analysts say the damage has been done. "It's the symbol that sticks in the craw of the Mexican people," said Lund, an American who has lived in Mexico City for 30 years. "It's the issue of privilege, not class warfare. The cunado is an archetype."
By last weekend, "it was the topic at dinner tables all over the country," Lund said. Calderón himself has acknowledged the difficulty in quieting the controversy.
Besides having to deal with the "cunado problem," as opponents are calling it, Calderón has been busy distancing himself from former president Salinas, long tainted by his brother Raul, a convicted murderer and suspected money-launderer.
But Calderón, speaking to Primero Noticias, a morning news show on Televisa, speculated that Salinas actually supports AMLO. He reached that conclusion because it he said appears Salinas "has loaned his best people to López Obrador's campaign."
After being thrown out of office by Vicente Fox in 2000, Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party was vowing to make a comeback. But six years later, it appears the once all-powerful PRI has little hope of regaining the presidency and is instead looking to consolidate its support at the local and state levels.
Even some well-known PRI officials are defecting, though the big question remains: Where will they go? PRI Sen. Manuel Bartlett is openly encouraging supporters to vote for López Obrador, while Sen. Genaro Borrego is backing Calderón.
Though the presidential race is a toss-up, the Spanish newspaper El Pais appears to be one of the only remaining holdouts that thinks Madrazo has a chance.
As commentator and fellow blogger Ana Maria Salazar notes: Madrazo "held a meeting at a nearly empty plaza" this week.
For those of you who can't get down here to enjoy the sun and games, the Arizona Republic's Chris Hawley takes you inside the block-long monstrosity that is home to PRI.
"A winged warrior with bayonets instead of feathers charges across a huge mosaic depicting Mexico's bloodiest battles. A six-story-high campaign poster dwarfs passers-by," Hawley writes. "But outside its iron gates, the PRI, as it is known, is not the monolith it used to be ... The party that once dominated all Mexico is about to become a force based more in governors and trade unions than in the federal government."
Seventeen of Mexico's 32 states are run by PRI governors, and the once-great party is said to have the largest base of any here, some 10 million guaranteed voters. At this point, however, it appears unlikely Madrazo can pick up many new voters.
He is attempting, "as elegantly as he can, to sustain the base so people will vote PRI locally," said Lund.
That reminds me of Bob Dole's final 96-hour push to Election Day in the 1996 campaign, a valiant effort to spare fellow Republicans the fate he knew he faced.
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