The Rally of All Rallies
He may win the election Sunday. He very well may not. But there is no doubt as Mexico's 2006 presidential contest comes to a close that Andrés Manuel López Obrador knows how to turn out a crowd -- not the bused in, free-lunch and T-shirt kind of crowd either. But the you're-one-of-us, fervent believers kind of crowd that stands in the rain, next to smelly porta-potties just to hear the same stump speech one more time.
In two decades of covering U.S. politics, including national conventions and Bill Clinton's two victorious runs, never have I seen a crowd like the one gathered in Mexico City's zocalo Wednesday evening for the grand finale of this contentious, cantankerous, down-to-the-wire race. Emerging from the subway, my traveling partners and I could barely make it above ground. López Obrador fans, some gathered hours earlier, stood cheek by jowl to hear the closing speech of the former mayor's campaign.
Campaign Conexión used to do crowd estimates in the states by literally counting a block of people and then multiplying. Here in one of the most densely populated cities in the world, that's just not possible. Various press and police estimates put the gathering at a few hundred thousand people, jam-packed in what is believed to be the second or third largest public square in the world behind Red Square in Moscow and possibly Tiananmen Square in Beijing. Let's put it this way, there were people everywhere.
Supporters perched on balconies and rooftops. They plopped younsters on their shoulders and gripped grandparents hands for fear of getting trampled in the sea of humanity. There were yellow caps, homemade signs warning of possible election fraud and, when the rain started anew, bright yellow ponchos as flimsy as a cheap trash bag selling for 5 pesos apiece.
Substantively, AMLO, as he is known, had nothing new to offer. That was okay, they'd heard it all before.
College for all, food vouchers for the elderly, new oil refineries, slashing government waste, and -- to boisterous applause -- no more sweet pensions for ex-presidentes. He walked off the stage in a shower of confetti, but the music and singing lasted for hours.
So that's it? The campaign's over? By law, candidates in Mexico must cease all wooing and schmoozing four days prior to the voting. I'm still not sure what's going to happen here, but Campaign Conexión is hoping for a nice pre-Election Day nap.
The Mexican punditocracy meanwhile, perhaps nervous about really screwing up, has been backpedaling on all the death-of-the-PRI talk.
"Mexico cannot return to the political adventure that it has lived since 2000," Madrazo said, speaking at the Monument of the Revolution in Mexico, where thousands of people had gathered to support him and the party's candidate for Mexico City mayor, Beatriz Paredes."Mexico can no longer afford an excursion to the right, or to the left."
All that confidence isn't swaying some analysts.
With all the attention AMLO's show was garnering, Felipe Calderón struggled valiantly to stay in the news with promises that he won't scare off foreign investment. Most polls suggest that López Obrador and Calderon are in a statistical dead heat, all within the margin of error.
Will the Real López Obrador Please Stand Up?
Journalists from the U.S. and U.K., all hepped up about López Obrador's momentum, are trying to dissect this guy. The easiest analysis is that he's cut from the same cloth as other Latin American lefties.
"If Mr López Obrador wins, Latin America's much talked about leftward march - through Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia and Chile - will have reached the United States' back door. If he loses, in the wake of electoral disappointments in Colombia and Peru, it will look like the retreat has begun.
"So though his rhetoric can sound radical, Mr López Obrador's policy proposals are hardly revolutionary."
Campaign Conexión knows better than most, that reporters don't write the headlines. So I commiserate with Alec Russell, whose fine dispatch was topped with this clunker: "US quakes as Mexico seeks new messiah."
"It is the plight of Mexico's millions of poor rather than dreams of forging an anti-Yankee axis that energises his campaign," Russell observes in the Telegraph.
Noted historian Enrique Krauze continues to cause a stir on both sides of the border with his analysis that López Obrador runs with a messianic complex.
"Millions of poor Mexicans, particularly in the center and south of the country, see in him what he sees in himself: a bestower of manna who will provide the poor with cash handouts and all the services of a great welfare state," Krauze writes in the New York Times. "His oratory increasingly blends the theological with the revolutionary: he has repeated that he will 'purify national life,' inaugurating a new era of 'historic transcendence' in which 'those on top,' 'those with money,' will no longer oppress 'those on the bottom.' Believe him: he's a man of his word."
Let the Napping Begin
So now the election observers roll into town and the airwaves go silent. It's back to telenovelas and World Cup soccer. Somehow I suspect we'll still have some developments to share with you in the next few days. But if not...ZZZZZZZZ.
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