Mexican conservatives revamp presidential bid

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 04, 2012 6:55 PM
Mexican conservatives revamp presidential bid

By Lizbeth Diaz and Mica Rosenberg

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Conservative candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota will re-jig her campaign to become Mexico's first woman president in an effort to close a yawning gap with the opposition front-runner, only five days after the race officially began.

Gustavo Madero, chairman of the ruling National Action Party, or PAN, announced the changes in the election strategy following splits within the party and a series of campaign mishaps as the vote looms just 12 weeks away.

"The strategies are being reviewed," Madero told reporters on Wednesday. "There will be adjustments."

Madero did not specify what the new strategy will entail but said that campaign director Roberto Gil will keep his job.

Vazquez Mota trails by double digits behind Enrique Pena Nieto, a former state governor running for the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

The PRI ruled Mexico for most of the 20th century until it was ousted by the PAN in 2000. It is now trying to capitalize on voters' frustrations with President Felipe Calderon's administration and a drug war that has left more than 50,000 people dead in the past five years.

Calderon is not allowed to run for a second term.

Vazquez Mota has pledged to keep up the president's anti-drug fight, and has implied that a vote for the PRI would be a return to the past, when politicians were widely believed to have cut deals with drug barons.

"The PRI candidate should take a lie-detector test to guarantee that he does not have any links to organized crime," the PAN said in a statement.

PAN chairman Madero said his party had fought a long and closely contested primary, unlike the PRI, which rallied around the photogenic Pena Nieto months before the July 1 vote.

"Our campaign began with a six-month disadvantage because the others started in November and ours didn't get going until February when we finally had our candidate," he said.

Vazquez Mota's historic nomination was overshadowed by much-publicized disputes over the PAN's selection process for congressional candidates, which prompted a round of bitter recriminations and defections from the party.

Adding to the headaches, late on Tuesday private security guards detected a suspicious package outside the PAN's campaign headquarters in Mexico City, setting off a bomb scare.

Police found the package was a bag of bread - 'pan' also means bread in Spanish - along with a note calling for the party to get its act together.

The prank reflects frustrations with Vazquez Mota's fitful start to the campaign, which kicked off on March 30. She had to cancel one early event after a small, rowdy protest, then felt ill at another, prompting a spate of unflattering headlines.

Vazquez Mota responded by doing a television interview while working out on an exercise machine, and her campaign said she would be willing to take a medical exam to prove she is healthy.

(Reporting by Lizbeth Diaz and Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Simon Gardner and Eric Beech)