JALAPA, Mexico — Two candidates were in a close race for the governor's seat in Veracruz, preliminary returns showed early today.
A loss would be a blow to the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which has held the state since the party's creation in 1929.
With 56% of the votes counted, the PRI's Fidel Herrera, a 55-year-old lawyer and senator, had 33.4% of the vote, compared with 33% for Gerardo Buganza Salmeron, a 48-year-old industrial engineer and former senator who is a member of President Vicente Fox's National Action Party, or PAN.
Trailing a close third in Sunday's elections was Dante Alfonso Delgado Rannauro with 30.6%. Delgado was running under the banner of United for Veracruz, a coalition of three smaller parties.
Official results weren't expected until Wednesday.
Delgado, a former PRI member, took over as governor from 1988 to 1992 after Fernando Gutierrez Barrios became interior secretary under then-President Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
Shortly after splitting from the PRI, Delgado was arrested in 1996 on charges that he misused $57 million in state funds and failed to fully declare his personal wealth. He has maintained he is innocent.
The PRI lost the presidency four years ago after holding the office for more than seven decades. But the party has shown signs of a rebirth, and pre-election polls showed Herrera, a lawyer and senator, in the lead.
A Herrera victory would add to a recent string of successes for the PRI, including gubernatorial wins in southern Oaxaca and northern Chihuahua and Durango states, as well as the mayors' races in the border cities of Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez.