- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 7, 2006

MEXICO CITY — He wasn’t expected to win his party’s primary, let alone surge ahead in the latest poll for the presidency. But soft-spoken conservative Felipe Calderon has managed to overtake his charismatic left-wing opponent, and suddenly the campaign is looking like a roller coaster.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, until recently the front-runner, still has two months to regain the upper hand, but if Mr. Calderon wins on July 2, it would break a wave of leftist victories in Latin America and give Washington a close ally at a time of tense relations over shifting U.S. immigration policies.

Mr. Calderon was already slightly ahead in two newspaper polls. Then came a survey published Wednesday in the newspaper Reforma that showed him leading Mr. Lopez Obrador by 40 percent to 33 percent, with Roberto Madrazo of the Institutional Revolutionary Party at 22 percent. The nationwide survey of 2,100 persons, conducted April 28-30, had a margin of error of 2.3 percentage points.

Harvard-educated Mr. Calderon, 43, calls for free-market reforms and conservative fiscal policies that would promote job creation so that Mexicans won’t have to cross illegally into the United States to look for work.

He is the candidate for outgoing President Vicente Fox’s National Action Party, but is more socially conservative than Mr. Fox. He strongly supports his party’s anti-abortion policy and cites Scripture during stump speeches.

Balding and bespectacled, Mr. Calderon is a sharp contrast to the tall, rugged Mr. Fox, who ended 71 years of one-party rule in Mexico with his historic victory in 2000. Mexican law limits presidents to one term.

Until Mr. Fox defeated Francisco Labastida, the Institutional Revolutionary Party had won every election since 1929, often enlisting fraud to hang on to the country’s top post. The historic change of parties in 2000 dispelled any doubt about Mexico’s democratic credentials and paved the way for this year’s even more competitive race.

Mr. Calderon wasn’t Mr. Fox’s first choice as successor. The two butted heads in 2004 when Mr. Calderon began openly campaigning to replace Mr. Fox while serving as his energy secretary. The spat led to Mr. Calderon’s resignation.

Last fall, many expected Interior Secretary Santiago Creel to win the nomination, but Mr. Calderon quietly united the party behind him.

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