Dick Morris Back on the (Mexican) Campaign Trail?
A solid dose of negative campaigning has tightened up Mexico's three-way presidential race, generating a spate of stories about the influence of controversial U.S. political strategist Dick Morris.
Reports in the Mexican press are raising questions about how connected Morris might be to the campaign of Felipe Calderon. The conservative Calderon is competing with leftist Andres Manual Lopez Obrador and populist Roberto Madrazo in a contest to lead a nation of 105 million people whose exodus of migrants, legal and illegal, are reshaping U.S. politics and society.
Last month, Calderon overtook Lopez Obrador for the first time in the polls when a survey done by the Reforma newspaper gave him a 38 to 35 percent edge over Lopez Obrador. Madrazo held 23 percent. Lopez Obrador has retained a slight lead in other recent polls compiled by opinamexico.org.
Calderon's surge followed a saturation television advertising campaign aimed at eroding the positive image Lopez Obrador has forged as a popular mayor of Mexico City by linking him to Venezuela's leftist president Hugo Chavez. In a story headlined "Mercenary Strategists Without Rival," the newsweekly Proceso (in Spanish by subscription) reported this week that Calderon has contracted Morris and Texas-based political consultant Rob Allyn "to handle not only his image, but the development of his campaign."
In a telephone interview, Allyn said, "I've never met Dick Morris and we're not associated in any way" but otherwise declined to comment. Representatives of Calderon's Partido de Accion Nacional (PAN) have denied Morris is involved in the campaign. Morris is not talking.
What is clear is that U.S.-style media campaigning has changed the dynamics of the 2006 race.
The most successful attack ad was a film clip of Chavez criticizing Mexican President Vicente Fox, juxtaposed with a clip of Lopez Obrador comparing Fox to a "chachalaca," a noisy turkey, and telling him to shut up. The effect, reported the Wall Street Journal, was "to paint Mr. Lopez Obrador as a demagogue who can't handle criticism."
Speculation that Morris was behind the ads first mounted when the former strategist for President Clinton turned Fox TV commentator wrote a column for the New York Post last month describing Lopez Obrador as an "ultraleftist" supported by Chavez and Cuban president Fidel Castro. "Lopez Obrador could be the final piece in their grand plan to bring the United States to its knees before the newly resurgent Latin left," Morris wrote.
The leftist daily La Jornada (in Spanish) played up Morris's comment to the Wall Street Journal that the attacks on Lopez Obrador "are working."
"Worse still," wrote correspondent David Brooks, "the man who proclaims himself as one of most prominent political advisers in the country warns that if Washington does not manage to pass immigration reform, it could alienate the Mexican electorate and deliver the country into the hands of Lopez Obrador."
Writing in El Universal, pollster Dan Lund who has worked for Lopez Obrador in the past, said Morris "has taken center stage at his insistence." His former client, by contrast, "is what U.S. consultants would regard as a heretic ....[even by] his own campaign manager," he wrote.
The question Lopez Obrador faces with two months to go is whether he has picked the right man for the job.
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