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.
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Mexican Voters Split by Pull of Polar Opposites

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Neither Calderón nor López got to the presidential race unbruised. Each lost a run for governor in their home states: Calderón in 1995 in Michoacan and López Obrador twice in Tabasco, including in 1994 against Madrazo.

Both Calderón and López Obrador reacted to their losses by delving deeper into their party's machinery. In 1996, each was elected head of his party, with Calderón, then 34, upsetting a popular PAN leader to become one of the youngest party leaders in Mexican history. The dual victories positioned them for bigger things and set them on a collision course.

They wrangled over a huge Mexican bank bailout that spawned scandals related to the PRI and accusations that it used the crisis to enrich its cronies. During this year's presidential campaign, López Obrador has repeatedly accused Calderón of being complicit in the questionable bailouts, a charge the PAN candidate vigorously denies.

For López Obrador, the banking scandals were a defining moment of outrage that propelled him toward this year's run for the presidency, said Rogelio Ramirez de la O, an economist and top López Obrador adviser.

The PRI's handling of the banking crisis presaged its fall from power in 2000, a year that would be critical for both Calderón and López Obrador. As Fox was celebrating his historic victory, López Obrador was ascending to the mayor's office in Mexico City, where his modest personal habits -- driving an inexpensive car and living in a small apartment -- were suddenly cast into a national spotlight. Fox's election also drew Calderón, the loyal head of the PAN, closer to Mexico's power center. He was appointed energy secretary three years later.

But getting power proved less complicated for the rivals than holding it.

In June 2004, eight months after taking office as energy secretary, Calderón quit when Fox publicly chastised him for talking about his intentions to run for the presidency. Not long after, López Obrador fought off an impeachment attempt related to a complicated land deal and claimed the case was trumped up by Fox's administration to keep him off the presidential ballot.

In the PAN primary, Fox backed another candidate -- the influential former interior secretary, Santiago Creel -- over Calderón. But Calderón, accustomed to challenging authority (his autobiography is titled "The Disobedient Son"), overcame Fox's opposition and won the nomination in December 2005.

Since then, Calderón and López Obrador have been targeting each other with increasingly aggressive smears. Calderón hit first, using campaign ads that compared López Obrador to Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, whose style has been scorned by critics as authoritarian. Calderón shot up in the polls, briefly passing López Obrador.

López Obrador slammed back with a bombshell at the second presidential debate in June, accusing Calderón's brother-in-law of not paying taxes on government contracts while Calderón was energy secretary. The attack undercut Calderón's anti-corruption promises and belittled his campaign slogan, "Clean hands." Despite Calderón's disavowals of influence-peddling, the case of the "inconvenient brother-in-law," as it is called here, is widely believed responsible for López Obrador's resurgence.

López Obrador's persistence has made many analysts nervous, particularly because of his penchant for comparing himself to historical luminaries. He has drawn parallels between himself and Mohandas Gandhi, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X.

Some say he has tried to compare himself to Jesus, too. Responding to a question about his religion in a January 2006 television interview, López Obrador said that he is Catholic and that he admires Jesus because he was "persecuted in his time, spied on by the powerful." Enrique Krauze, a historian, dubbed López Obrador the "Tropical Messiah" because the candidate's description of Jesus was similar to Lopez Obrador's descriptions of himself.

"He believes he's Mexico's savior," Krauze said in an interview. "He has struck a chord, a religious chord. That's irresponsible, but irresistible."

Calderón has staked out positions appealing to the powerful Catholic Church in Mexico, such as opposing gay marriage and the morning-after abortion pill.

While those positions seldom come up in the campaign anymore, perceptions that López Obrador is anti-business have become marquee elements of PAN attacks, forcing López Obrador to try to repair relations with business leaders. The perceptions were stoked by López Obrador's description of some bankers and businessmen as government "parasites."

López Obrador and Calderón have called for U.S. and Canadian investment to create jobs in southern Mexico and stem migration. Both men have said an immigration accord is needed with the United States.

But they don't agree on much else. They wouldn't even choose the same place to live. Calderón would occupy Los Pinos, the elaborate Mexican presidential compound where he became the Fox administration's disobedient son. López Obrador would turn Los Pinos into a park. He would then move into Mexico's National Palace, a heavy stone structure built by a conquistador and ringed by Diego Rivera murals that illustrate how much this nation has suffered looking for someone in power to show the way.


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