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May 23, 2006
Center Right Candidate Surges In Mexico

A shift has taken place in the lengthy presidential campaign in Mexico. The center-right candidate from Vicente Fox's party has suddenly surged to the lead after retooling his campaign to emphasize more centrist concerns. Felipe Calderón's new message appears to have resonated with Mexican voters, leaving his leftist opponent sputtering about polling samples after having led the same polls for most of the campaign:

After six months in second place, Mr. Calderón has surged past the front-runner, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, with a stream of attack advertisements portraying him as a dangerous and violent leftist who will bankrupt the country.

Now, a month before the vote, the race is a contest between Mr. Calderón, a free-trade advocate backed by business leaders, and Mr. López Obrador, a leftist who draws most of his support from poor people who feel that free-trade policies have failed to help them.

For his part, Mr. López Obrador, 53, who was mayor of Mexico City until last year, dismisses the recent polls as "propaganda" and claims the numbers have been massaged to undercount working-class voters. Under his stewardship, Mexico City's finances remained solid. As for the charge that he is dangerous, he calls it simply ludicrous. ...

Mr. Calderón, of President Vicente Fox's National Action Party, has outspent Mr. López Obrador two to one on attack ads that, among other things, link the left-leaning candidate to Hugo Chávez, Venezuela's anti-American president. He has also deftly played on the perception that Mr. López Obrador, of the Party of the Democratic Revolution, has an authoritarian streak and a reputation as a rabble-rouser because of raucous protests against election fraud he led over a decade ago. Mr. Calderón's ads call his rival "a danger to Mexico."

Calderon may not be the best choice we could get as a partner across the Rio Grande, but Lopez Obrador looks even worse. Latin America has begun a new fascination with socialism despite its long record of misery in this hemisphere. While the current economic situation has serious issues (which lead to the immigrant flood that has grabbed our national attention lately), turning Mexico into a Socialist state would make those problems exponentially worse. If Lopez Obrador follows Mexican precedent and starts nationalizing business, foreign investment would disappear and with it any hope of creating enough jobs to keep Mexicans at home.

However, the real long-term solution for Mexico is a housecleaning, an expulsion of the corruption that has made an oil-rich nation a desperate Third World blight. That solution will eventually be found by growing the Mexican middle class and returning power, both economic and political, to their hands. Neither candidate or party really stands for that cause. Calderon initially started campaigning on a more conservative background, promising to lower taxes and cut government spending -- and therefore government corruption and abuses of power. Mexicans reacted poorly to his clear-eyed conservatism, so he jettisoned it and promised an expansion of the welfare state, which resulted in his new polling boost.

That does not bode well for external solutions to the immigration problem at the border. Both candidates oppose the American initiative to build a wall on the border, but both candidates offer policies that make it more necessary than ever. If they do not want a wall built, then they should tend to their own house. We note with amusement that we're not trying to keep Americans from fleeing into Mexico by the hundreds of thousands each year, and until Mexico fields a candidate who wants to take responsibility for the desperate straits of their own people, they had better get used to an armed and secure border.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at May 23, 2006 6:18 AM

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