MEXICALI, Mexico — Ernesto Zedillo, the presidential candidate of Mexico's ruling party, launched his campaign Thursday with a Mexican political tradition: He visited his hometown, Mexicali.
But throughout his first day of persuading voters of his merits, Zedillo also confronted stark reminders that his will not be a traditional campaign.
Besides getting started barely four months before the Aug. 21 elections, the Zedillo campaign confronts dissension within his party and the long shadow of the assassination of his predecessor, Luis Donaldo Colosio. Colosio's March 23 murder, which occurred as the candidate left a campaign rally in Tijuana, is still under investigation.
The morning before arriving in this border town, Zedillo left wreaths at Colosio's grave in the northern village of Magdalena de Kino and at the Tijuana assassination site, where he spent just eight minutes under intense security and made no public statements.
Later, he traveled to a luxury Tijuana hotel, where he met with local political leaders and a handful of newspaper editors.
That gathering site contrasted sharply with Zedillo's first stop in Mexicali, Colonia Pueblo Nuevo, a neighborhood of graffiti-covered single-story concrete houses where he lived as a child.
Dressed in an olive jacket and casual slacks, Zedillo occasionally reached through the circle of security guards to shake hands with onlookers as he walked along the unpaved street to his old home.
Later, before a crowd of about 1,500 in the municipal auditorium, Zedillo said that growing up in a working-class neighborhood taught him that "our most important commitment is to those who have the least."
Earlier in the day, outspoken Mexico City Councilman Demetrio Sodi made it clear that Zedillo faces a split in the Institutional Revolutionary Party, known as the PRI, that has ruled Mexico for 65 years.
Sodi, a 19-year PRI veteran, quit the party Thursday over Zedillo's nomination, which was essentially the unilateral choice of outgoing President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
Other democracy-minded party activists, notably the Democracy 2000 movement, have also threatened to resign over the nomination, but Sodi is the first to actually do so.
Zedillo has responded indirectly to such threats by invoking the name of the slain candidate to call for party unity in speeches and in the few interviews he has granted.
The rally here included a moment of silence for Colosio, and Zedillo began his remarks by saying he is carrying on for his fallen friend.
But the frequent tributes to Colosio, victim of Mexico's most shocking political murder in 66 years, have begun to provoke criticism from opposition parties. The weekly magazine Proceso said in its latest issue that Zedillo remains in Colosio's shadow.
Concern about such criticism was the reason Zedillo excluded the reporters traveling with him from the grave and murder site visits, a campaign source said.
Times staff writer Sebastian Rotella in Tijuana contributed to this report.