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Sizing up campaign ads in Mexico's presidential election [Video]

March 30, 2012 | 12:19 pm

REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Today marks the official start of Mexico's presidential election campaign, but television ads from the three main candidates are already spreading through social media, an advertising deluge that will continue until election day on July 1.

The first ads give an indication of the tone that each of the three candidates hopes to set. They include promises of a new strategy to fight drug cartels from opposition front-runner Enrique Peña Nieto and Josefina Vazquez Mota, the successor to President Felipe Calderon who must distance herself -- in perception at least -- from his unpopular handling of the crackdown.

There is also a reminder of the last campaign from leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who felt the need to apologize for his party's bungled response to its razor-thin loss in the last election.

The Times spoke with political analyst and editor Andres Lajous about the ad spots and asked how their messages might resonate with voters. Let's take a look:

Enrique Peña Nieto: Veracruz

The telegenic Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) is clearly aiming to stick to a front-runner's safe script.

His first offering is slick and cinematic. He is shown walking in different settings to peppy music. He speaks in general terms about "change" and "commitment."

"They look like tourism spots," Lajous said.

The ads focus on specific Mexican states, highlighting their grandeur. In the spot on Veracruz, which has been a violent battleground between drug cartels, government forces and paramilitary groups, Peña Nieto begins extolling the state: "It's a port! It's a song!"

"That's why it's even more painful that the violence has reached here," the candidate says. "As president of Mexico, I'm committed to adjusting and correcting the strategy against crime."

The adjustments and corrections are not elaborated, but the message is clear. I know how to fix this, the former state governor is saying.

"What really draws attention here is his mention of the security issue, since the PRI has governed [Veracruz], one of the most violent states in the country, without interruption," Lajous noted.

Josefina Vazquez Mota: Security

The spot opens with an unsettling sound, immediately establishing a sense of tension and fear.

A boy is seen running away from something, apparently a source of danger. Then the candidate, Vazquez Mota of the conservative National Action Party (PAN), appears proclaiming: "I want the police to carry out their duties, protect our families."

"It's a campaign of fear," Lajous said. "You almost expect a pile of skulls to appear at the end. It's very dark." (Ultimately, it is revealed that the boy is running to fly a kite.)

The ad finishes with Vazquez Mota's early campaign slogan, "Different," a clear effort to distance her from Calderon, also of the PAN.

Vazquez Mota's security platform, however, is so far not significantly different from that of the current president. Both advocate police reform as an alternative to military action against organized crime.

"Being frank, this is how the right understands the world," Lajous said. "'You're afraid, you need me to protect you.'"

 Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador: Reconciliation

Ever the earnest leftist, Lopez Obrador's first round of spots look backward to the last campaign's aftermath.

The former mayor of Mexico City and presidential candidate who came within a percentage point of winning in 2006 makes an apology to voters in his first ads for his coalition's response to that year's results: an "occupation" of the center of Mexico City that badly damaged Lopez Obrador's image.

The candidate of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD) suggests that taking over the city with a massive sit-in in 2006 was necessary to prevent violence after his passionate base of supporters refused to accept the razor-thin results that gave Calderon the presidency.

That lost momentum is recalled in his other initial ad, "History," but his political negatives remain strong -- something the ads hope to change.

"Voters still see him as a shouter, as confrontational, a street leader," Lajous said. "Here he looks executive, as if he were in Los Pinos [Mexico's presidential residence]."

This week, Lopez Obrador told the Spanish newspaper El Pais that he's "forgiven" Calderon for the PAN's negative attacks against him in 2006, and he greeted former President Vicente Fox, also a PAN member and rival, during Pope Benedict XVI's outdoor Mass in Guanajuato.

Still, Lopez Obrador is entering the 2012 race trailing both Peña Nieto and Vazquez Mota.

"He wants us all to live the event as he lived it," Lajous said. "Well, right now we're not deciding whether Calderon will lead us again. I think it's a wasted message."


Lopez Obrador gets presidential nod from Mexico's left

On his stroll toward Mexico's presidency, Pena Nieto stumbles

Mexico female presidential candidate Vazquez Mota embraces role

-- Daniel Hernandez