Vázquez Mota and the 2012 Mexican Election

How the Incumbent Candidate Could Upend the Country's Politics

Vázquez Mota won 55 percent of the vote in last week's primary. (Claudia Daut / Courtesy Reuters)

Last Sunday, Mexico's incumbent National Action Party (PAN) chose its presidential candidate: Josefina Vázquez Mota, who won the party's primary to become the first female presidential candidate from a major political party in Mexican history. But Vázquez Mota's triumph was not a coup just because of her gender. She got the PAN nod (only party members actually vote in Mexican primaries), over President Felipe Calderón's handpicked candidate, Ernesto Cordero. And Vázquez Mota's victory was decisive -- she took 55 percent of the vote to Cordero's 38 percent. Despite their differences, President Calderón, her recent rivals, and the party quickly rallied behind her. 

In the presidential election, which is set for July 1, Vázquez Mota will compete in a three-way race. The current front-runner is the Institutional Revolutionary Party's (PRI) Enrique Peña Nieto, the telegenic former governor of the state of Mexico; he maintains a twenty point lead in national polls. Voters like him because of his good looks, his fairytale family history (his wife died, then he married a soap opera star), and his public works largesse when in office. He also benefits from the partisan support of 19 of Mexico's 32 governors. Not only will those governors endorse him, but they will boost Peña Nieto's campaign with their abundant resources, ensuring widespread local media coverage, packed campaign rallies, and strong get-out-the vote drives. And then there is Televisa, Mexico's largest media company, which has virtually adopted Peña Nieto; their camera crews are always close by and quick to flatter him.

Behind in the polls but still one of the most recognizable names in Mexican politics is Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who will be running as the candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). He lost narrowly -- by roughly 250,000 votes -- to Calderón in 2006, and his supporters flooded the streets of Mexico City for months afterward claiming

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