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."

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
PRD presidential candidate Andres Manuel López Obrador speaks during a rally last week in Chiapas. (AP Photo)

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.

Sources, dubbed "people in the know" here, say Salinas split with PRI candidate Roberto Madrazo, who is trailing in every poll.

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."

Whither PRI?

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.

By washingtonpost.com Editors |  June 16, 2006; 8:35 AM ET  | Category:  Campaign Conexión
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Bill Clinton sex appeal? I never once heard a woman who had been used by Bill Clinton claiming it was appealing. Only a liberal media would see a fat guy with a bulbous nose as having sex appeal. Having not won a majority of votes in either of his elections, Clinton's sex appeal apparently falls behind that of Al Gore's.

Posted by: Karen | June 16, 2006 10:28 AM

Unfortunately, pieces like these are playing into AMLO's mystic--even in the US press. How about a piece on AMLO's stint as the mayor of Mexico City? We should talk about his track record as the mayor of one of the largest cities in the world--the rise in the crime rate, the decrease in employment, AMLO's ridiculous road projects in Mexico City, and the confirmed corruption amongts his close support staff. I cannot see AMLO's presidency acomplishing anything comparable to Clinton's presidency. For everyone's sake, I'm rooting for Calderon or Madrazo.

Posted by: Anonymous | June 16, 2006 11:40 AM

There´s no questions that Mr. Lopez is appealling here in Mexico, but this "charm" is with the people who have had historically frustrated the hopes for a better life. The source of it lies definitively in our historical background, from the aztec empire until the PRI dictature Mexico have been moving from a charismatic leader, kind of a father, to other one who throught fraud or violence took away the former, spice up with the religiosity of the prehispanic culture and the strong imposition of the fatherly God for the catholic church. We have no history of democracy, we lack commitment of the society in the planning of the country, and since we haven´t had this culture, is hard now to decide rationally instead of passionately. That´s exactly why AMLO is so appealling here, the less educate people will vote for him, they lack the elements to chose the vote, they just feel empaty with the proposals and their ancient unaccomplished needs, even if these proposal in the mid term could leads them to be poorer since these are very irreponsable. I hope that for our own sake, first, we could pass this test of democracy wheter is PAN or PRD the winner, second, we are all mexicans and we have to learn how to decide together, how to create concensus over the destiny of our nation and the place we want to have in the world, and third, we can choose a candidate with the best proposal, the more financially responsable and the one who has the plans directed to a logn term policy. Through education and economical development we´ll reach the dream of a respected, more equal and succesful Mexico we all want. And for me, Felipe Calderon is the one who fit better this historical moment even with the catholic church support and the social conservadurism that features the PAN, eventually this very negative aspects will have to give up to the open minded opinion that the education and welfare bring simultaneously.

Posted by: Jose Gutierrez | June 16, 2006 12:46 PM

ANY Mexican President that opposes American National Socialist foreign policies in Latin America will be a welcome change...

Posted by: hsing lee | June 16, 2006 05:16 PM

AMLO and the party he represents, the PRD, are nothing more than PRI lite. As a matter of fact, the PRD was founded by a group of PRI malcontents who had been nudged aside in their bid for power within the PRI by technocrats such as former president Carlos Salinas de Gortari. Two of those malcontents are Cauhtemoc Cardenas, who ran for president in 1988, and Lopez Obrador. For anyone who follows Mexican politics, the differences between the PRD and PRI are minimal, not only because there are many former PRI politicians amongst the PRD ranks, but because their socialist-tinged policies are virtually the same. In the Mexican Senate and Chamber of Deputies, the PRI and PRD have been known to join ranks in order to stymie legislation sent down by President Fox, but rarely have they themselves crafted legislation to help the vast majority of the Mexican poor. A win by Lopez Obrador next month will not only be more of the same, but will be a step back in Mexico's struggle to rid itself of the massive corruption in that country and, more ominously, the growing power of the Mexican drug cartels.

Posted by: Rob Mello | June 16, 2006 07:02 PM

I'm amused, somewhat puzzled by the comments above. The second one seems dutifully lifted from PAN talking points, the same talking points used by Jorge Castañeda during the chat of a few days ago. The third one seems to suggest that some nebulous, educated class, knows better than regular Mexicans: vote should not be granted to the ignorant, unwashed masses... Come on, people, grow up! Welcome to the democratic play. Democracy means freedom to chose, even if mistakes are made in the process. PAN has had its opportunity to govern the country, and if it has failed to convince a majority of Mexicans to vote for its candidate, so be it. Let's stop using "el petate del muerto" (the dead man's shroud) to scare potential voters with apocalyptic scenarios if PRD wins the election. Finally, if the writer of the last comment follows so closely Mexican politics, can he explain why is PRI's Madrazo running in this election, if, according to him, PRD is just PRI-lite (whatever that means)? How can he explain the protest organized by Lopez Obrador when he and Madrazo ran both for the Tabasco State Governorship, with a dubious victory for Madrazo? On the other hand, what is wrong with PRI and PRD forming alliances in the Mexican Congress? Isn't that the way that democracy, particularly in a multi-party system, works? Mr. Fox has lacked political accumen to succesfully work with Congress. I don't see any indication that Mr. Calderón, if elected, could be more efficient in this regard.

Posted by: pasilla | June 16, 2006 11:52 PM

A fascinating post. It's worth noting that the phrase women are using for Lopez Obrador is nothing new: female Sandinistas used the exact same line to describe Nicaraguan leader Daniel Ortega when he was running in the early 1990s. While he might have liked the compliment, given that "rooster" in Spanish is a sort of slang for "stud," it didn't help Ortega at the polls. He lost the presidency to the conservative candidate, who happened to be a woman.

Posted by: Juliet Eilperin | June 17, 2006 10:14 AM

Viva AMLO, we are the majority in Mexico, the poor, the under employed, the young, who dont want another 6 years of Fox do nothing, or PRI faluires. Already a brother in law of the PAN candidate, has been linked to confilct of intrest, related to win Felipe Calderon, FECAL was energy minister. With the current presdient Fox, whos wife, Martha Sagun, and whos kids from a 1st marrarige made out like bandits during step daddys term in office, has made us sick. We dont want anymore politicians like that for president. Sure the PRD has had corupt members, but they where ban from the party and even some landed in jail, unlike those PAN politicians link to Amigos de Fox, friends of fox who gave foriegn money to fox campian, of the PEMEX gate scandel, which involved the PRI, none of them went to jail, or where removed from their party...Enough is enough, Inviting all Mexicans who live in the US,and can vote this July 2nd, to please help make Mexican history by voting for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador
¡Con hechos AMLO! Somos mas, vamos a ganar.

Posted by: maya0 | June 18, 2006 01:49 PM

A vote for Lopez Obrador is a vote for substantive change. While people in the United States clamor for a halt to illegal immigration, stemming the flow of indocumented migrants will only happen if the economic situation in their home country can sufficiently meet their immediate, basic needs (i.e. housing, clothing, food). An undocumented person realizes that when he/she crosses into the United States they will become and be treated as second class citizens. They rarely know the language and the work available to them is menial at best. AMLO was successful as mayor of Mexico City because he was able to address and mitigate problems that directly impact ordinary citizens. He successfully implemented a monthly stipend program for senior citizens of Mexico City and built a second layer highway while reducing the municipal budget by cutting the salaries of city employees and reducing staffs. While his policies may not completely alleviate the problems among the poor in Mexico or stop the flow of undocumented immigrants into the United States, he will not continue to promulgate policies that encourage financial malaise for the poor of his country. The candidate for the PAN will only implement the economic neo-liberal policies of Carlos Salinas and President Fox which has only increased illegal immigrations into the United States at an exponential rate when compared to their predecessors. The time has come to finally bury the "Washington Consensus" for the benefit of the United States and Mexico. As for Madrazo of the PRI, the time of fixing elections is over.
As for indepth analysis of the elections in Mexico, the Post would be better served with a great intellectual like Lorenzo Meyer instead of a connected but mediocre commentator, who despite having plenty of books and articles under his belt, has not been able to objectively distance himself from the failed policies of the PRI(long family history in the party) and PAN (member of Fox's cabinet) when analyzing Mexican politics.

Posted by: Bernardo Carbajal | June 18, 2006 10:56 PM

Raising fear against the opponent on television is such a lame way of trying to convince voters. That is what PRI and PAN campaigns are all about. Even Fox participates in favoring Calderon. Mr. Lopez Obrador's opponents have been using the media to scare the people and encourage viewers to not vote for AMLO as oppose to convince viewers why their plan is better; explain what their plan is about. Yeah, right...now things are going to be different. They had their chances and did nothing for our country. Don't these people realize we are tired of phony promises which have only worsened our situation? Being a politician in Mexico has become a very juicy and lucrative business for politicians' personal benefits. The fact is the PRI and PAN just don't want to say goodbye to their privileges once Mr. Lopez Obrador starts running office. Reason enough to vote for Lopez Obrador! I can't wait to see that!

Posted by: Karla A. Reséndez N. | June 24, 2006 02:40 PM


Posted by: elmetichepelondetepito | June 28, 2006 01:08 AM

It´s very simple, the rich people that are among the lines of PAn are minor than the poors like me. Obrador´s charm is perceived by our very mind depths and there´s much empathy; that´s why we can´t feel pleasant Calderon´s pride.

Posted by: Morrisey | June 28, 2006 05:14 PM

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