MEXICO CITY -- The campaign for the front-runner in Mexico's presidential election is producing reality TV-style documentary videos that show him kissing and flirting with his wife, eating ice cream and returning home after a day on the campaign trail to hug his daughters.
The videos constitute a new level in the blurring of lines between politics and pop media in Mexico, and appear to be energizing support among voters.
Enrique Peña Nieto, galloping toward the July 1 vote with a double-digit lead over his two main rivals, would be the first president from the former ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in the 21st century. The PRI, often labeled through its history as quasi-authoritarian, was booted from power in 2000.
The videos primarily star Peña Nieto's wife, telenovela actress Angelica Rivera, and are narrated from her perspective under the title, "What My Eyes See, and What My Heart Feel" (links in Spanish). In them, she follows her husband to campaign events and chats with him between stops in clips that feel like journals or diary entries.
One ends with Peña, 45, and Rivera, 41, arriving home and letting the viewer in on plans for an evening of dinner, bathing and bedtime. In another, he samples local ice cream. Here's a new clip from a stop in Villahermosa, in the state of Tabasco:
The videos are meant to show an informal, intimate side of the couple, who married in 2010 after the sudden death in 2007 of Peña Nieto's first wife, Monica Pretelini, while he governed the central state of Mexico. The clips have garnered thousands of views on YouTube and "likes" on Facebook. There, Rivera's public page (links in Spanish) frequently posts casual snapshots of her and her family.
Political advertising in Mexico's two most recent presidential campaigns, won by Vicente Fox in 2000 and fellow conservative Felipe Calderon in 2006, has moved steadily toward a more U.S.-style media approach. The PRI's effort this year takes the current social-media orientation of Mexican politics to a new level.
Peña Nieto personifies the trend, making some political commentators bemoan the nature of the 2012 race. In a Jan. 27 column in the daily Reforma, author Juan Villoro called Peña Nieto a "political hologram" and a "tele-candidate."
"There is no election today that is not decided in the media," Villoro wrote. "Trusting in this precept, the PRI has chosen a telegenic candidate. The problem is that he appears to have little more than luminous wrapping."
U.S. officials in Mexico have been watching Peña Nieto's rise for years, noting his telegenic qualities since the start, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables. One of those cables from 2009 relays a description of Peña Nieto as "a pretty face with nationwide appeal, but lacking in substance and political savvy."
His strongest detractors early on were apparently concentrated within his own party, the leaked cables show. In another from 2009, contacts inside the PRI told U.S. officials that they believed Peña was "paying media outlets under the table for favorable news coverage, as well as potentially financing pollsters to sway survey results."
His campaign has carefully guarded his public appearances, and the videos in "What My Eyes See, and What My Heart Feels," although edited with an unscripted, chop-and-cut flair, are no different.
During his first campaign stop in the city of Oaxaca, for example, Rivera's video diary showed an upbeat Peña Nieto greeting supporters at the city's central plaza but no images of the crowds of demonstrators (link in Spanish) who had gathered to protest the PRI machine.
The party isn't alone in pumping funds into sleek documentary-style video spots.
The campaign for Josefina Vazquez Mota, candidate for the conservative National Action Party, released a video Wednesday documenting her visit (link in Spanish) that day to the prestigious Tecnologico de Monterrey university.
In it, she speaks to students in an auditorium, then responds to a protestor who yells at her from the audience. The nature of the protestor's complaint, however, is not specified, and neither is the candidate's response, for that matter. Instead, the video ends with a crescendo of music and the candidate calling over applause, "Do not tire of truth! Do not tire of liberty!"
-- Daniel Hernandez
Photo: Institutional Revolutionary Party presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, center, and his wife, actress Angelica Rivera, left, during a campaign stop in Papantla, Veracruz, on April 13. Credit: Peña Nieto campaign