- The Washington Times - Friday, June 16, 2006

The presidential election in Mexico enters into its final two weeks, and Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the leftist candidate and former mayor of Mexico City, has pulled slightly ahead of Felipe Calderon, the more conservative and pro-business candidate, in the public-opinion polls. Mr. Calderon trailed significantly until his campaign adopted a more aggressive tone this spring, pushing him into the lead in April. Mr. Calderon got traction by highlighting the ideological similarities between his populist opponent and the authoritarian president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. Mr. Chavez, in fact, lent his rhetorical support to the former mayor.

Mr. Calderon got a bump from a televised June 6 debate, but the effect quickly dissipated. Turnout among the middle and lower-middle class will be crucial in much the same way that such turnout helped President Vincente Fox win in 2001.

Personal charisma outshines the general appeal of Mr. Lopez Obrador’s party. The polls that have him leading Mr. Calderon show the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party trailing Mr. Calderon’s National Action Party in a legislative race. Mr. Lopez Obrador is a fiery speaker, and his populist rhetoric appeals to Mexico’s ubiquitous poor.

The Federal Election Institute, an independent monitor of the campaign, dealt a blow to free speech by banning certain campaign ads that it thought were defamatory or misleading. The institute even asked President Fox not to campaign for or speak on behalf of Mr. Calderon. This imposition falls particularly hard on a candidate whose gains in the polls corresponded directly with his truculent attacks on Mr. Lopez Obrador.

Preceding the televised debate at the beginning of the month, the wife and children of a contractor charged with corruption were shot at driving to school. This, the contractor’s wife said, was meant to intimidate her from releasing video evidence of corruption among Lopez Obrador aides. Criticism in response spread in all directions and responsibility for the shooting has not yet been determined, but the attack clearly demonstrates the lethal tension of the campaign.

The United States cannot expect either candidate to support necessary immigration reforms, but an improved economy should lessen the impulse for Mexico to relocate itself north of the Rio Grande. An improved economic outlook is contingent on a Calderon victory — or, more to the point, a Lopez Obrador defeat. A Calderon victory is, in turn, heavily dependent on Mexicans believing that the path to prosperity runs not through the unsustainable state spending and subsidies that Mr. Lopez Obrador used to boost his popularity in Mexico City.

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