Mexico Presidential Hopefuls Spam for Edge

The Associated Press
Friday, June 23, 2006; 4:49 PM

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's presidential candidates have moved into cyberspace, where the campaigns are bombarding voters with online games, cartoons and attack e-mails ahead of the July 2 vote.

With more than 20 million Mexicans now using the Web, this is the first election where the Internet could make a real difference in Mexico. Most Internet users are young, and so is the electorate: more than 40 percent of the 71 million registered voters are under age 30.

Both top contenders have flashy online appeals. Felipe Calderon, the conservative candidate, is a superhero fighting dinosaurs and sharp-toothed fish in an Internet video game satirizing his rivals.

"This is the first Mexican election in which the Internet is having a real impact," said his spokesman, Arturo Sarukhan. "Our war room believes it is a crucial vote-winning tool."

The leftist camp of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador hit back with its own mass e-mail campaign, which it insists is homegrown. One message, titled "Lies," includes a slide show portraying his opponents as attacking vampires and Nazi propagandists.

"They show the creativity of a social movement," his spokeswoman, Claudia Sheinbaum, said. "People are outraged at seeing the candidate attacked so viciously and want to do something."

Many of the e-mail messages forwarded again and again by Calderon supporters call Lopez Obrador a corrupt demagogue and a danger to Mexico. Some also reveal Mexico's stark class divisions.

"The uncultured Lopez Obrador will break the law and protect criminals," says one e-mail that launched a long thread of responses. "If you know a taxi driver or cleaning lady, or anyone else without education, let them know what waits for them."

Other e-mails claim Lopez Obrador, nicknamed "El Peje" after the sharp-toothed fish of his native Tabasco state, failed his university exams and direct readers to what purports to be an academic study finding him mentally unfit for office.

The negative e-mails support Calderon's radio and TV campaign, which include spots that flash the words "danger" and "lies" over images of the former Mexico City mayor.

Lopez Obrador campaign coordinator Ricardo Monreal filed a complaint with the federal Attorney General's Office last month claiming that President Vicente Fox's administration used government workers to send out 7 million e-mails backing Calderon.

Calderon spokesman Sarukhan compared the legal challenge to "throwing smoke bombs."

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