CIUDAD VICTORIA, Mexico – Mexican President Felipe Calderon’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 Calderon after a campaign for local elections in more than a dozen states that was besieged by assassinations and scandals that displayed the power of drug cartels.
Impoverished and volatile Oaxaca is one of several states in which Calderon’s conservative National Action Party formed alliances with leftist parties seeking to thwart a resurgence of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, 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, trying to capitalize on growing frustration with surging drug gang violence. But exit polls released by TV Azteca and Televisa indicated the PRI would not significantly improve on the nine governorships it already held among the dozen seats up for grabs.
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.
The PRI gubernatorial candidate in Sinaloa, Jesus Vizcarra, had long faced allegations of ties to the cartel led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexico’s most-wanted drug lord.
With about 9 percent of the vote counted, preliminary official results showed alliance candidate Mario Lopez with a slight lead over Vizcarra.
The 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 by suspected drug cartel gunmen. His brother, Egidio, was picked to run in his place.
The brother claimed victory, saying “the best way to honor my brother will be to give my best effort to achieve the Tamaulipas we all want.” Earlier, he voted at an elementary school in Ciudad Victoria wearing a bulletproof vest and escorted by federal police in two trucks.