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National Action Party gubernatorial candidate Francisco "Kiko" Vega skipped the fifth and final official gubernatorial debate Wednesday in Tecate. Even though the debate was shown only via the Internet, such absence can be highly damaging for a candidate — it very well could be that former Mexico City Mayor Andrés Manuel López Obrador's skipping the first presidential debate in 2006 cost him the election that year. And a poll published Friday in Frontera newspaper showed the Institutional Revolutionary Party's Fernando Castro Trenti in the lead, 39.6% to 34.2%. But a Zeta poll that also came out Friday put the race in a dead heat, with Castro Trenti with 44.5% and Vega with 44.2%. Its earlier poll showed Castro Trenti ahead.
But Vega's campaign for the July 7 election has been aided by a major development this week — Mexico City's El Universal newspaper has run stories showing Castro Trenti owning expensive homes in Mexico City and in San Diego County, causing many to wonder how he could have afforded them on a politician's salary. El Universal said Castro Trenti owns two homes in San Ysidro and one in Chula Vista that is for sale for $850,000. It said Castro Trenti, senator for Baja California from 2006-2012, bought the Chula Vista property for $1.1 million in 2007. The paper said the home in Mexico City was bought in 2010 for 10 million pesos (around $800,000), remodeled with an additional 16 million pesos, and put on sale for $5 million, or more than 50 million pesos. Castro Trenti addressed the Mexico City property in the debate on Wednesday, saying he has lost money on it. He told El Universal that he has a history of buying properties, fixing them up and selling them for profit.
Castro Trenti's campaign also was told by a federal electoral tribunal to remove from the airways an ad which accused Vega of a questionable land deal. Vega, a businessman who was mayor of Tijuana from 1998-2001 and a federal congressman from 2009-2012, also owns several properties, including a home in San Diego. The Vega campaign has been running an ad calling Castro Trenti a liar in relation to this and other issues (PDF).
Update, July 1: Columnist Rafael Olivera Avila writes in El Mexicano (PDF) about Castro's Trenti's properties and cites a March report from the weekly Zeta to explain the Vega land purchase, where valuable land was sold by the city for 5.5 million pesos (roughly $600,000 at 2002 exchange rates) shortly after Vega's mayoral term ended, then was resold to Vega 10 months later for essentially the same price; Olivera Avila said it now is the Aranjuez shopping center in Villa Fontana valued at more than 21 million pesos ($1.6 millon).
The fourth gubernatorial debate was held June 19, in Mexicali.
Experts were divided over who won Wednesday night's Baja California gubernatorial debate in Mexicali, but all seemed to agree that it was a shame that Citizens Movement candidate Felipe Ruanova continued to just bludgeon the National Action Party and Vega.
"Ruanova is confusing a political debate with a street fight," analyst Benedicto Ruiz wrote in his June 21 column in Frontera newspaper titled "A bogged-down election."
Ruiz said the debates have had an awful format and a deplorable topic selection but said the candidates' stiffness was even worse. "Vega de la Madrid doesn't know how to defend even the smallest idea and when he does, his political childishness shows; Castro Trenti focuses so much on his policy proposals that he sounds flat, without nuance or any deep thought," Ruiz said.
He said the election seemed to be up for grabs between Castro Trenti and Vega. Ruiz said in his June 28 column that this year is the PRI's best chance, and perhaps the last one for a while, to end the PAN's 24-year stranglehood on the governor's office.
Vega, who also skipped the third debate, in Ensenada, accused Castro Trenti and Ruanova of bullying him. Ruanova, a lifelong PRIista, published a book attacking the PAN this year, and offered a refund to anyone who bought the book and read it and then votes for the PAN anyway.
El Mexicano editorialized June 21 that in the fourth debate in Mexicali, "again what stood out was confrontation, disqualifications and attacks instead of proposals and projects for the government."
After the June 19 debate, a panel of analysts on Televisa Channel 12 divided over who won. Colegio de la Frontera Norte analyst Espinoza thought Castro Trenti had won because of his proposals, while a Televisa Mexicali analyst thought Vega had won. Both decried Ruanova's tactics.
June 28 ad in El Mexicano saying Castro Trenti is ahead 37.4% to 31.5% (PDF)
June 28 ad in El Mexicano saying Vega is ahead 39.2% to 35.6% (PDF)
June 29 Explora group ad in El Mexicano saying Vega is ahead 36.7% to 33.2% (PDF).
June 28 ad saying Castro Trenti lies, and noting that he must remove ad against Vega (PDF)
June 27 El Mexicano story on Castro Trenti Mexico City house (PDF).
June 27 ad (PDF) asking Vega, among other things, why stolen goods are bought and sold at his pawn shops.
July 3 PRI ad in El Mexicano reprinting Excélsior story about Vega's 2002 land purchase.
El Mexicano editorial on debates(PDF).
Frontera story on Vega's partner, Brenda Ruacho.
Frontera story on Castro Trenti's wife, Isis Peralta.
June 25: Vega tours Tecate on horseback. Story, Frontera (PDF). Jump.
June 24: Sergio Sarmiento's column, "24 Years After": He laments that both main candidates promise the moon.