Mr. Moon, on the other hand, was a young opponent of Park Chung-hee. Before working for Roh, whom Mr. Lee replaced in 2008, Mr. Moon was a human rights lawyer. He also spent time in jail for challenging the government of Park.
Mr. Moon’s parents lived in the North Korean port city of Hungnam before fleeing to South Korea aboard a U.S. military ship in December 1950, six months after the Korean War broke out. They were among an estimated 100,000 North Korean refugees transported by the United States from Hungnam to South Korea in daring evacuation operations that month.
Mr. Moon’s parents lived in an interim shelter on South Korea’s southeastern Geoje Island and later moved to a nearby village where Moon was born in 1952. Mr. Moon’s father, a former agriculture official at Hungnam City Hall, did manual labor at the camp while his mother peddled eggs.
A Moon win would be a clear judgment against the Lee government, said Hahm Sung-deuk, a political scientist at Korea University in Seoul. Mr. Moon’s appeal is that he “appears to be nice, honest and clean.”
With South Korea’s economy facing a 2 percent to 3 percent annual growth rate for this year and the next, the presidential candidates have focused on welfare and equality and fairness issues. Neither, however, has matched Mr. Lee’s campaign promise to boost South Korea’s economy by an ambitious 7 percent growth annually, apparently aware of the global economic challenges that beset the country’s export-driven economy.
Economic worries may be the focus of many voters, but North Korea has forced itself as an issue in the closing days of campaigning with its rocket launch last week, which the United States and others call a cover for a banned test of technology that could power a missile to the U.S. mainland. North Korea says it sought only to put a peaceful satellite into orbit.
The launch won’t be a major election influence, but it will consolidate conservative votes in favor of Miss Park, Mr. Hahm said. The launch will remind South Korean voters that “the North Koreans are unpredictable and belligerent,” he said.
The rocket launch could make it harder to quickly mend relations with North Korea, especially if Miss Park wins.
“She has a firm stance on national security, but she has few ideas on how to establish a peace regime and lacks the determination to do so,” said Cheong Seong-chang, a North Korea analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea. “If Park becomes president, South-North relations would get better, but a big improvement in ties would be difficult.”
• AP writer Youkyung Lee contributed to this article.
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