Katie Putnam, The Mexico Institute’s Elections Guide, 4/9/2012
As the PAN’s Josefina Vázquez Mota and the PRD’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador seek to catch frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto (PRI) in the narrowing window before the election, analysts wonder whether new electoral rules have made that increasingly unlikely.
The PAN Campaign
PAN presidential candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota called for an emergency meeting of campaign strategists after a rocky first week of the campaign. In the span of four days, she misspoke during a speech and promised to “strengthen money laundering” if elected, had to cancel an event due to “poor planning” that overlooked a nearby strike of airline workers, was forced to interrupt a talk because she felt faint, and, perhaps to prove her good health, allowed a TV crew to film her morning exercises. The gaffes follow an already difficult past few weeks that we have previously discussed, from a poor showing at her nomination rally to visible signs of tension with President Calderón and his cabinet.
Vázquez Mota, who currently trails frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto by as many as 15 points, cancelled a weekend campaign trip to Veracruz to meet with her aids: “We’re convinced that we have the right strategy, but we’re conducting a very early review in order to strengthen those aspects of the campaign that may need it,” she said.
No specifics have emerged thus far.
The PRD Campaign
The Associated Press ran a story on April 4th entitled “Mexico left in disarray ahead of election.” The article quotes a series of analysts who concur that Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s moderation towards the center is too little, too late. As we have discussed in previous stories, López Obrador has moved from his 2006 campaign message of “For the good of all, the poor first” to courting middle class voters and independent businessmen with his promise to break up the big monopolies that have dominated the country under both the PRI and the PAN. But as polls show him stuck in third place, the challenge of appealing to the middle class may prove too steep. According to Manuel Camacho Solís, a former Mexico City mayor who was among López Obrador’s campaign coordinators in 2006, believes that “it may be late […] If he had done it six years ago, without doubt he would have won.”
After López Obrador’s widely watched protests of fraud following the 2006 election, some consider the candidate to be still fighting battles of the past. While his current ads appear to apologize for the disruptive protests, he still harkens back to the narrative of the Mexican Revolution. López Obrador still defends the workings of the inefficient state-owned oil company, and wants to reinstate Luz y Fuerza, the state-owned energy company infamous for its corrupt union. Some also consider his policies, such as his security slogan of “Hugs, not bullets,” to be pie in the sky. Alejandro Granillo, a 26-year-old Mexico City drug store employee interviewed by The Associated Press, said he’s planning to either annul his vote or not participate at all:
“Lopez Obrador does have a bit more connection with the people than the others,” Granillo said. “But what is his anti-crime program? I don’t think you’re going to solve the problem with love.”
Possibility of an upset?
When discussing the likelihood of a Peña Nieto victory, many newspaper stories caution that the frontrunner in the January polls before the last two presidential elections ultimately lost. Is it possible that either of the trailing candidates, perhaps with changes in their campaigns, could ultimately surpass Peña Nieto? The analysts who participate in Animal Político’s online debate forum, “El Palenque,” are skeptical for several reasons relating to the 2007 electoral law. Luis Carlos Ugalde, the former president of the Federal Electoral Institute, names three in particular. First, the campaign is much shorter this time around: three months instead of the six in 2006. This gives candidates a much diminished window to change their standings. Ugalde notes that it took Calderón more than three months to catch his rival.
Second, negative campaigning is banned in this contest. Considering that Felipe Calderón’s dramatic ascent in the final few months before the 2006 election is often attributed in part to his widely-seen attack ads portraying López Obrador as a danger for Mexico, the prohibition on negative advertisements this time around may make an upset less likely.
Lastly, TV and radio spots this election have already been allocated by the Federal Electoral Institute. In contrast to previous years, candidates do not have free reign in buying additional exposure. Instead, air time was assigned according to the following formula: 30 percent of spots were distributed equally among the candidates, while 70 percent was allocated according to each party’s performance in the most recent congressional election in 2009. The PRI benefited most from the formula: Peña Nieto has been allocated 40 percent of the 17 million pesos in available funds, while Vázquez Mota has 28 percent, and López Obrador has 21 percent.
As such, even if Vázquez Mota or López Obrador manages to jumpstart their campaigns, they face a few important structural constraints in their race to beat Peña Nieto on July 1st.