Mexico's ruling PAN to choose presidential candidate

Mexico-pan
REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Mexico’s ruling party picks its presidential candidate Sunday, adding the final key name to the ballot as Mexicans prepare to elect a new leader in July.

Polls for weeks have given Josefina Vazquez Mota, a former congresswoman and education secretary, a huge lead over two rivals within the conservative National Action Party, or PAN. Trailing are Santiago Creel, a former federal senator and onetime interior minister, and Ernesto Cordero, who quit as finance minister in September to seek the party’s nomination.

Sunday’s winner will need an outright majority, or at least 37% of the vote with a lead of five percentage points or more over the next-nearest vote-getter, to avoid a runoff. The PAN has about 1.8 million members eligible to vote.

Whoever wins faces long odds against Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which once ruled Mexico and is charging hard toward a comeback. Peña Nieto, former governor of the central state of Mexico, is shown in polls with leads of more than 20 percentage points over Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, representing a leftist coalition in a repeat presidential bid, and any of the three PAN hopefuls.

The PAN’s internal campaign, underway for months, has grown rougher in recent days, with the sharpest exchanges between Vazquez Mota and Cordero, the presumed favorite of President Felipe Calderon. Calderon is barred by law from seeking reelection.

Cordero, who has failed to gain in polls despite help from Calderon’s inner circle, has tried to portray Vazquez Mota as an ineffective congresswoman. For her part, Vazquez Mota was caught referring to Cordero as a “boor” during a phone conversation that was taped and made public this week. Vazquez Mota has called for a criminal investigation into how her conversation came to be recorded and aired.

The Reforma newspaper this week published photographs of what it said were Cordero campaign workers in the central state of Puebla handing out sacks of groceries in exchange for votes in the PAN primary. Creel, who lost the party’s nomination to Calderon in 2006, has battled to remain relevant amid the escalating back and forth.

Vazquez Mota would become Mexico’s first female presidential candidate from a major political party. She has proved an energetic and able campaigner and surprised many by building such a lead in the polls over two better-known players. Recent polls give her margins of at least 25 percentage points over Cordero and Creel, who have held high-profile government posts but who cut drab figures in public.

Many analysts believe Vazquez Mota would be the party’s strongest contender in the July 1 election. But Cordero’s team points to some polls in which Vazquez Mota fares only slightly better than he does in a hypothetical matchup against Peña Nieto.

Some commentators say Cordero’s ties inside the party could give him an edge in mobilizing PAN sympathizers in Sunday’s primary — and a chance for an upset win.

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--Ken Ellingwood

Photo: Presidential candidates Santiago Creel, left, Josefina Vazquez Mota and Ernesto Cordero of the National Action Party, or PAN, pose for photographers at the end of an internal party debate at  national party headquarters in Mexico City on Jan. 17. Credit: Christian Palma / Associated Press

 
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