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Tycoon remains behind in Baja

Mexican state's voters chose conservative for governor, results show.

August 07, 2007|Richard Marosi | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — Conservative candidate Jose Guadalupe Osuna Millan beat back a strong challenge from gambling tycoon Jorge Hank Rhon to win the gubernatorial election in Baja California, according to preliminary election results Monday.

Osuna, with 50.5% of the vote, had an insurmountable lead over Hank, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, who garnered 43.7% of the vote, according to a count of nearly all the polling places by the Baja California Electoral Institute.

The win by Osuna, of the National Action Party, or PAN, reasserted the party's control over a state it has governed for 18 years. Some experts predicted that Hank would break the PAN's grip on power after he spent about $4 million of his own money on a polished and hard-hitting campaign that blamed the PAN for the state's high crime rate.

Hank, 51, a multimillionaire who owns off-track betting parlors, campaigned in poor areas where over the years he has provided many gifts and favors.

But Hank was unable to overcome his controversial past and rocky tenure as mayor of Tijuana from 2004 to 2007. Though Hank said that crime decreased during his administration, the city suffered more kidnappings than almost any other city outside the Middle East.

Homicides increased as endemic violence related to narcotics trafficking continued. PAN party leaders suggested that Hank had links to drug traffickers and that he posed a danger for all of Mexico if elected. Hank's chief of security was convicted of murder in the 1988 slaying of a Tijuana journalist, and U.S. authorities have investigated Hank in the past for alleged ties to drug trafficking.

The PAN's tough campaigning paid off, experts say. "They succeeded in instilling fear in the middle and business classes," said Benedicto Ruiz Vargas, a political analyst with the Ibero-American University in Tijuana.

Hank's claims to being an effective crime fighter also fell flat.

"Not even a first-grader would believe that he lowered crime. They'd say he was either lying or ignorant," said Alberto Capella Ibarra, president of Tijuana's citizens advisory council on public safety.

Osuna is an economist and former mayor of Tijuana who promised to reduce crime and improve roads in the state.

richard.marosi@latimes.com

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