CIUDAD VICTORIA, Mexico – Mexican President Felipe Calderón's party appeared headed to a triumph Sunday in a longtime stronghold of the former ruling party and was in a tight race for the governorship of another key state, according to exit polls and preliminary official results.
A victory in the southern state of Oaxaca would be a much-needed boost for Calderón, after a campaign for local elections in more than a dozen states that was plagued by assassinations and scandals.
The events demonstrated the power of drug cartels and presented his government with its most serious political challenge.
The vast majority of citizens didn't show up to vote in the northern state of Tamaulipas, where the leading gubernatorial candidate was assassinated a week ago by suspected cartel gunmen.
Impoverished and volatile Oaxaca is one of several states in which Calderón's conservative National Action Party (PAN) formed alliances with leftist parties seeking to thwart a resurgence of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico for 71 years and still controls many state governments.
The PRI had hoped for significant gains in Sunday's elections to pick up momentum for its bid to regain the presidency in 2012. The party is trying to capitalize on growing frustration with surging drug gang violence.
The polls and preliminary official results pointed to a PRI defeat in Oaxaca, a heavily indigenous state that it had ruled for 80 years.
The PAN and its leftist allies were also in a tight race in the PRI bastion of Sinaloa, a violent northern state that is the birthplace of the powerful drug cartel of the same name.
TV Azteca and Televisa exit polls said the PRI won in at least nine states, including three that it wrested back from the PAN or the leftist Democratic Revolution Party.
The polls indicated the PRI easily held on to the border state of Tamaulipas, where PRI candidate Rodolfo Torre was assassinated Monday.
His brother Egidio was picked to run in his place. He voted at an elementary school in Ciudad Victoria wearing a bulletproof vest and escorted by bodyguards and federal police.
The PRI held up Torre's assassination as evidence that Calderón has failed to bring security, despite the presence of tens of thousands of troops and federal police in trafficking hot spots.
PAN leaders, in turn, insinuated the PRI protects drug traffickers in Tamaulipas and Sinaloa.
Fear discouraged many people from voting in Tamaulipas, where extortion and abductions are rampant, and armed men openly drive on highways with the acronym of the Gulf cartel stamped on their SUVs.
Just 20 percent of voters in Tamaulipas cast ballots, according to the state election institution – a dramatic drop from the 50 percent turnout in the last state elections in 2007.
Dozens of poll workers quit in fear over the past week.
In the violent border state of Chihuahua, four bodies were hanged Sunday morning from different bridges, a typical and ominous message from drug traffickers. Police took them down before daybreak.
Later, police found the bullet-ridden bodies of six people on a highway outside Ciudad Juárez.
Monday, July 5, 2010