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Monday, April 9, 2012

Week one of presidential campaign shows organization of PRI, and how far PAN and PRD have to go

By David Gaddis Smith

The first week of the 2012 Mexican presidential campaign shows the superior organization of the Institutional Revolutionary Party and how far the National Action Party and the Democratic Revolution Party have to go.

It all started on March 30, just after midnight. Front-running PRI candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, appearing in Guadalajara, had his speech broadcast to PRI rallies across the country just minutes after midnight. Meanwhile, the PAN's Josefina Vázquez Mota had to cancel her planned midnight kickoff rally in Ensenada because the PRI there had reserved the plaza the PAN had planned to use. She instead had a lower octave kickoff at PAN headquarters in Mexico City.

That was the start of a relatively bad week for Vázquez Mota. She was unable to stand to deliver part of her speech at a Mexico City event on Monday, April 2, later saying she was suffering from low blood pressure. When she appeared in Ensenada later in the week, she had her picture taken exercising in a hotel gym, but the damage was done following what happened to her in January, when she gave answers unrelated to the questions asked in a radio interview. Campaigning takes a wear and tear on a candidate, and Vázquez Mota never has been involved in a sustained campaign like this one. Monday's El Mexicano editorial page had a humorous column headlined "Josenferma Vázquez Mota" — enferma means sick in Spanish — that could spell trouble for her if she cannot turn her image around and get the public to focus on her many ideas for improving Mexico. Despite her campaigning in Baja California, a PAN stronghold, an Explora poll showed Peña Nieto with an 8-point lead in the state.

A compilation by the Mitofsky polling organization of various voter surveys not commissioned by political parties put the race this way: Peña Nieto 48.9%, Vázquez Mota 29.2%, López Obrador 20.8% and the New Alliance Party's Gabriel Quadri 1.1%. That figure closely correlates with Mitofsky's last poll, throwing out the undecided vote.

Meanwhile, López Obrador, who recently said something along the lines that he was tired of the campaign grind, released his first ads. The most charitable thing that can perhaps be said about the ads from a politician formerly seen as a firebreather is that they are boring. His having his would-be Cabinet appear with him in a scene reminiscent of the Beatles' "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" was clever, but will it draw him votes? He remains mired in third place. With negative advertising banned, in part because it helped bring López Obrador down in the 2006 race, ad makers are going to have to get awfully creative to draw attention to their candidate and then hope their candidate does extremely well in the May 6 debate.

Peña Nieto's ads aren't perfect, and many are wondering why they show him in public places with no other Mexicans in the background. But little seems to be damaging his commanding lead in the polls. His former lover released a photo on Twitter of them with the son he fathered while married to his first wife. Some papers ran it, but will it do much damage? Many women still flock to have their picture taken with him, despite a retired cardinal's warning not to vote for someone just because he is handsome or has a copete, or tuft of hair (like Peña Nieto). Mexicans' reaction to the affair reminds me of President Clinton's dalliance with Monica Lewinsky. After that came out in 1998, many Mexican men told me that Clinton's carousing caused them to have even greater respect for him, and would have voted for him if they could. And while it appears that Mexico is less macho today than 14 years ago, it still is pretty macho.