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Mexico Opens Presidential Campaign

The five candidates take their message on the trail in what is expected to be a close three-way race.

January 20, 2006|Hector Tobar | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — The race for the presidency of Mexico officially started Thursday, with the leftist former mayor of this capital city, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, commanding a strong lead in the polls.

Officially freed to spend their money, advertise and otherwise display their presidential ambitions, the five registered candidates fanned out to remote villages and crowded urban neighborhoods. And most important, their faces and their messages began to appear on broadcasts.

Two other major candidates are expected to join Lopez Obrador in a tight three-way fight. Roberto Madrazo leads the Institutional Revolutionary Party -- known by its Spanish initials, PRI -- which ruled Mexico for seven decades until the last presidential election, in 2000.

Felipe Calderon represents the center-right National Action Party of outgoing president Vicente Fox.

Lopez Obrador, 52, launched an early-morning daily television program on the national network TV Azteca. Later, he spoke to residents in the central plaza of the most impoverished municipality in Mexico, Metlatonoc, in the mountains of the southern state of Guerrero.

The location focused attention on what is expected to be the central message of the Lopez Obrador campaign: Mexico's "economic model," founded on liberalized trade with the United States and Canada, has excluded the country's impoverished majority.

Still, speaking before a crowd made up mostly of Mixtec Indians in Metlatonoc, Lopez Obrador sought to assuage the fears of those who say he is too radical to manage the economy.

"I want this to be heard near and far -- we will have a market economy," Lopez Obrador said. "But the state will promote development and fight inequality."

Calderon, a 43-year-old Harvard graduate and former energy minister, has presented himself as a capable technocrat who is the best suited to continue the economic reforms launched by Fox, who is prohibited by law from seeking reelection. Fox has greatly expanded open-market policies begun by his two predecessors.

On Thursday, just after midnight, Calderon opened his campaign before about 700 people in the Iztapalapa district, a dense Mexico City warren ravaged by crime.

"I might have a lot of defects. I am just your average sinner," Calderon told the crowd. "But I have a strong character and I am resolved to work to ... keep crime in check in the Federal District [Mexico City] and the entire country."

Polls this week showed Calderon running 6 to 8 percentage points behind Lopez Obrador.

Running third in all the polls is Madrazo, the 53-year-old former governor of the Gulf Coast state of Tabasco. Most of the polls predict Madrazo will draw 30% or less of the vote. He is expected to portray himself as a pragmatic problem solver, while hoping the public forgets the corruption and voter fraud allegations surrounding his party.

On Thursday, Madrazo drew 50,000 people to Ecatepec, a Mexico City suburb in the neighboring state of Mexico, a PRI stronghold. He also focused on crime.

"My hand will not tremble to bring the order and security that our country needs," he said. "We don't want mothers to have to worry about the safety of their children."

Two small-party candidates are running a distant fourth and fifth in most polls, receiving 2% support or less.

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