MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's four candidates for president will square off tonight in a tightly controlled debate in which they will make their case to voters to lead Mexico for the next six years as the country struggles against soaring drug-related violence and economic doldrums.
The debate begins at 8 p.m. local time (Central time in the United States) at the World Trade Center in Mexico City and will be aired live on YouTube via the channel for the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE.
It is the first of at least two official meets among the candidates who have become political footballs themselves. The second-largest television network in Mexico, TV Azteca, stirred controversy when it said last week it would not air the debate live and instead go with a major-league soccer match.
The 2012 campaign has been dominated by Enrique Peña Nieto of the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. Peña Nieto has maintained a comfortable double-digit lead in polls despite a series of early missteps and allegations by his opponents that his campaign has already surpassed spending caps on propaganda.
Two other candidates, Josefina Vazquez Mota of the center-right National Action Party, or PAN, and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the center-left Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD, are under pressure tonight to significantly shift the momentum of the race in either of their favors.
Both campaigns view Peña Nieto as vulnerable in unscripted situations. The debate format, however, will offer little room for back-and-forth. Questions were agreed upon and previously distributed.
Vazquez Mota and Lopez Obrador are widely seen to be vying for second place, while Gabriel Quadri, of the Nueva Alianza party, is running a distant fourth.
-- Daniel Hernandez and Cecilia Sanchez
Photos: Enrique Pena Nieto, left, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, Josefina Vazquez Mota of the National Action Party and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party, during different events in Mexico City. Credit: Associated Press