Correction to This Article
A June 29 article about the candidates in the Mexican presidential race described the "morning after" pill as an abortion pill. The Food and Drug Administration classifies it as an emergency contraceptive.

Mexican Voters Split by Pull of Polar Opposites

By Manuel Roig-Franzia
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, June 29, 2006

MEXICO CITY -- One candidate was born "with a suit and tie on," as his friends say, a meticulously prepared speaker who eviscerates debate opponents, a wonkish campaigning machine.

The other, who oozes rumpled charisma, generates controversy with spontaneous street-slang insults and accepts live roosters from crowds as an homage to his cockiness and his sex appeal.

They represent the great, distant poles of modern Mexican politics: Felipe Calderón, the polished lawyer on the right, and Andrés Manuel López Obrador, the fiery populist on the left. For months these two men have ripped away at each other in the race for the presidency, sharpening their colossal ideological differences. They have relegated Roberto Madrazo, candidate of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, to an ignominious third place in the polls, and now head into the Sunday election in a statistical dead heat.

The implications of the race are enormous. It has consequences for Mexicans struggling to solidify their political system six years after ending one-party rule. But it also resonates in the United States, where Mexico's fortunes can be measured in the one-way flow of illegal immigrants and the two-way flow of commerce. The asymmetrical campaign styles and visions embodied by Calderón and López Obrador suggest that their Mexicos would be very different places.

Calderón -- a balding, bespectacled lawyer who opponents have often teased about being short -- is the free-trade booster. A former Mexican energy secretary, Calderón, 43, wants to be the "employment president" and promises continuity with the administration of outgoing President Vicente Fox.

López Obrador -- a 52-year-old former mayor of Mexico City whose campaign plays to women by distributing pictures of him on heart-shaped, rose-dotted fliers -- is the disciple of New Deal-style programs. He pledges to work "for the good of all, first the poor" and wants to blow a hole in the North American Free Trade Agreement by refusing to honor Mexico's commitment to lower tariffs on U.S. corn and beans.

Their approaches to migration -- the defining issue in U.S.-Mexico relations on Capitol Hill, but only a tangential theme in the Mexican presidential race -- are as starkly divergent as anything in their respective campaign arsenals. Calderón looks outward, hoping his carefully crafted pro-business image will attract foreign investment that will create jobs and dissuade Mexicans from migrating. López Obrador looks inward, pledging to slash what he says is wasteful government spending to pay for massive public works projects that would employ millions of Mexicans for years to come.

"First Mexicans -- later foreigners," López Obrador said emphatically during a recent appearance in the mining town of Pachuca, drawing cheers so loud and sustained that he had to pause mid-speech.

Calderón and López Obrador came from different areas of the country. Calderón -- the youngest of five children -- was born in Morelia, a 16th-century Spanish colonial city in the state of Michoacan, half-a-day's drive west of Mexico City. López Obrador -- the oldest of eight children -- was born in the isolated state of Tabasco in eastern Mexico, a swampy locale known for its florid politics.

Their political roles were reversed in their early years. López Obrador, who has run for president on a platform of dramatic change, was the conformist. He served as a regional leader for the PRI, which dominated Mexican politics between the 1930s and 2000, before he switched to the left-leaning Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, in the late 1980s.

Calderón, who says he will preserve "Foxismo" farm-subsidy and business policies, began his life and his career as an anti-establishment outsider. His father, Luis Calderón Vega, was one of the founding members of the National Action Party, or PAN, and Calderón spent his formative years helping in a string of quixotic campaigns against the monolithic PRI.

But " el niño ," as Luisa Maria Calderón used to call her brother, was indefatigable, delivering campaign speeches almost from the time he could talk. The other children dutifully memorized their father's standard stump speech, but not little Felipe, she said. He adopted his father's ideas, she said, but "always had to come up with his own words."


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