Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Josefina ends 2012 campaign in Mérida

"We have already won," candidate tells the PAN party faithful

Mérida, Yucatán --
Mexico's presidential election is next Sunday, July 1, and under federal law formal campaigning must terminate this week. The four candidates have been staging official "closure ceremonies," as they're called here, for several days, and PAN hopeful Josefina Vázquez Mota did so in this historic capital city last evening.

Twenty thousand came out to see the National Action Party nominee in Mérida's main plaza at 8:30 p.m. (an hour beyond the scheduled start time). Her voice was tired and hoarse from the arduous 12 week campaign, but the candidate sounded as determined as ever as she spoke of her vision for Mexico. Mérida's most famous landmark, the massive Cathedral of San Ildefonso built less than 100 years after Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas, served as an impressive backdrop on a muggy Monday evening. A sea of blue and white PAN flags, banners and campaign placards ruled the jam-packed plaza.

"We have already won," she told the huge crowd. "When you capture the heart and the soul of a people, you win. That's what we have done in Mexico in 2012."

A huge electronic screen carried recorded messages of support from nationally prominent PANistas. When Margarita Zavala, wife of president Felipe Calderón, warmly declared her endorsement of Vázquez Mota, the crowd roared its approval.

A surprise message came from Diego Fernández de Cevallos, a household name to Mexicans who follow politics. He said it was long past time for Mexico to elect a woman president. His firm and unequivocal support for Josefina stands in stark contrast to former PAN president Vicente Fox, who has repeatedly insulted the candidate by urging her to abandon her campaign and get behind PRI front runner Enrique Peña Nieto. Many have called Fox a traitor, and demanded that he be kicked out of the party (Vicente Fox, a PRIsta in very thin disguise). On June 5 a PRD senator predicted that Cevallos would follow Fox and turn on the party's nominee. But last night the respected PANista proved otherwise, and left no doubt that he's fully behind Josefina. The crowd loved him for it.

Weekend polls show Vázquez Mota, 51, locked in a tight race for second place with leftist candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador of the Democratic Revolution Party. Both trail Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate Enrique Peña Nieto by 15% or more. When the race to Los Pinos began on March 30, the PANista was thought to present his only real challenge. But Josefina's campaign sputtered coming out of the gates and never caught fire. López Obrador snatched second place from her weeks ago, although in the last several days she's recovered enough to make the runner-up position anybody's guess.

PAN claims its own polls show Josefina within half a dozen points of heir apparent Peña Nieto, although very few in last night's crowd would have put money on that. But what the party faithful lacked in poll numbers they more than made up for in boisterous enthusiasm.

Vázquez Mota arrived in Yucatán late Monday on a last whirlwind tour of the state. She met with a group of indigenous woman in Izamal, the "Yellow City," before traveling here.

Enrique Peña Nieto also appeared in Mérida earlier in the day for his own campaign closing ceremony. I couldn't attend both, and since I covered EPN when he appeared in nearby Progreso in April (Enrique Peña Nieto makes whistle stop in Progreso), I opted for Josefina's event.

(The candidate showed up an hour after dark and appeared on a shadowy, back-lit stage, while I was 150 feet away tightly wedged in a mass of sweaty, screaming bodies, armed only with the slowest of lenses. How could photographic conditions get any worse? f4.5, 1/25, and ISO 3200 yielded a very predictable result, suitable for the Delete button.)

President Felipe Calderón supports Josefina
All about Mexico's presidential candidates
All about Mexico's election, 2012
Mexico's presidential campaign begins

Mérida's Monument to the Flag (sometimes known as the Monument to the Homeland) stands like a lone sentinel six days before the elections, displaying the national colors.

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