People in Chilpancingo, Mexico, wait to cast ballots for Guerrero governor… (European Pressphoto Agency )
Reporting from Mexico City — Both candidates for governor in the southern Mexican state of Guerrero claimed to have the edge Sunday in an acrimonious election that played out against a backdrop of drug violence.
The dueling claims of victory, with vote-counting barely underway, echoed the bitter tone of the race between Manuel Anorve of the once-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, and Angel Aguirre, who abandoned the PRI to run as candidate of a leftist coalition led by the Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD.
Anorve said early data showed that he would win, and Aguirre said exit polls gave him an "irreversible" margin. The Televisa network projected Aguirre would win, based on results from selected polling places. Later, he held a hefty 16-point lead with votes tallied from nearly a third of polling sites.
Sunday's balloting was largely peaceful despite fears that the campaign's harsh tone might spur election day mayhem. Each party had accused the other of dirty tricks, such as vote buying and violence against rivals.
PRD officials said that four supporters in one town were beaten and that some residents received telephone calls telling them to stay home to avoid violence in the streets. Outgoing Gov. Zeferino Torreblanca Galindo of the PRD labeled those calls "disinformation" and said turnout by midafternoon appeared healthy.
Mexican troops and 8,000 federal, state and local police officers provided a stepped-up security presence, especially in the 21 most populous municipalities, Torreblanca said.
Guerrero, with 3.1 million inhabitants, is a rural and mostly impoverished state apart from the high-rise tourist hotels, bars and restaurants lining scenic Acapulco Bay.
The state's election is the first of six gubernatorial votes this year, contests that will set the direction of the presidential race in 2012.
Most observers are watching to see whether the PRI, which ruled Mexico for 70 years before being toppled in 2000, can sustain a comeback effort that has left it as the party to beat in the presidential election. The PRI's most likely presidential candidate, Gov. Enrique Pena Nieto of the central state of Mexico, holds a hefty lead over hypothetical challengers in most polls.
Some analysts say Pena Nieto comes out ahead no matter which candidate wins in Guerrero because both appear likely to support him. The conservative party of President Felipe Calderon was running so far behind in Guerrero that its candidate threw his support to Aguirre to thwart the PRI.
The state has been the site of bloody feuding between rival drug traffickers during the last two years, leaving more than 500 dead in Acapulco, Guerrero's biggest city. This month, 30 men were killed in Acapulco during a single weekend; 15 were beheaded.