After surprising election, top 2 Argentine candidates reset

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Posted: Oct 26, 2015 1:37 PM
After surprising election, top 2 Argentine candidates reset

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — The top two presidential candidates in Argentina reset their campaigns on Monday after a razor-close election vote forced a runoff and cast doubt on the legacy of President Cristina Fernandez, a polarizing leader who spent heavily on programs for the poor but made enemies with her brash style and failure to solve economic ills.

Sunday's presidential election shook up the political landscape. Numerous polls in recent months had projected that ruling party candidate Daniel Scioli would win by 10 percent or more.

Scioli, the governor of the Buenos Aires province, had been viewed as an easy front-runner thanks to the support of Fernandez, a charismatic two-term president. Fernandez won admirers for rewriting the South American country's social contract but also drew sharp criticism for widespread allegations of corruption in her administration and for fights with political opponents and other nations that many Argentines found tiresome.

With 97 percent of polling places reporting Monday, Scioli had 36.9 percent of the vote, while opposition candidate Mauricio Macri had 34.3 percent.

That forces a second round, since to win in the first round a candidate needs 45 percent or 40 percent and a 10-point advantage over the nearest competitor.

"A runoff will be like reshuffling the cards and dealing again," said Mariel Fornoni, director of consulting firm Management & Fit. "The political landscape will be very different on Nov. 22"

Scioli reminded supporters on Monday that he captured the most votes, and warned that Macri would undo popular state programs.

"Sometimes the word 'change' can be attractive in politics," said Scioli, arguing that the state should continue to have a strong hand in Argentine society.

Scioli also invited Macri to a debate, an about-face after refusing to debate the other five candidates a few weeks ago.

Macri called the vote "transformative," and promised to convince voters who didn't choose him on Sunday.

"We will correct the abuses and the fraud of inflation," Macri said, reiterating one of his common themes.

Many Argentines are worried about high government spending and inflation around 30 percent. Many have also grown tired of a legal fight with creditors in the U.S. that has kept the country out of international credit markets.

Macri presented himself as the man to put Argentina's economy in order, promising to resolve the debt fight and lift unpopular currency restrictions.

But he also tailored his campaign to the millions who receive some form of government support. He promised to maintain popular programs for the poor and increase spending in some areas. He even inaugurated a statue of Juan Peron, a three-time former president who founded the ideological movement to which Fernandez adheres.

Scioli, a former boat racer who lost his right arm in an accident, presented himself as the continuation of Fernandez's policies but who would also fix anything broken.

Both candidates' decision to straddle the center also led to many questions about what they would really do in office.

"I think this election was an expression of widespread fatigue" with the current government, said Jorge Neimark, an 85-year-old retired lawyer. "Even if Macri didn't represent any ideology, he does represent a change."

Over the next month, both candidates will be heavily courting Sergio Massa. The former Fernandez loyalist came in third on Sunday, garnering 21.3 percent of the vote.

On Monday, analysts, pundits and ordinary Argentines were debating theories on why the polls were so far off. A popular mashup video on Twitter showed reality television personality and U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump in the board room of his show "The Apprentice."

With a headline addressed to Argentine pollsters, Trump is seen doing his signature "You are fired!"

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Associated Press writer Almudena Calatrava and video journalist Paul Byrne contributed to this report.