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Economy and insecurity take center stage as Sheinbaum and Gálvez vie for Mexico’s presidency

The candidate for Morena is emphasizing national prosperity while her opponent takes aim at the violence plaguing the country

Mexican presidential candidates Claudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez.
Mexican presidential candidates Claudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez.Cuartoscuro
Carmen Morán Breña

With the close of the pre-campaign period ahead of Mexico’s presidential elections, candidates are reiterating prior messages and offering a preview of the concerns that will likely define the official campaign season, which begins on March 1 in the lead up to election day on June 2. On Thursday night, Claudia Sheinbaum delivered a speech emphasizing the successes of the current government and reiterating Morenista catchwords — the poor, the people, honesty — while her opponent, Xóchitl Gálvez, of the National Action Party (PAN), directed her early closing remarks, delivered last Sunday in Mexico City, to the followers of her tripartite coalition, focusing on the insecurity and fear that plague the country. On Thursday in Guanajuato, at a smaller and less eventful rally, Gálvez again drew attention to the issue of violence. “I for one am committed to combating crime; I have the guts it takes to bring peace,” she said.

On both occasions, Gálvez made references to the economy, which has been stronger in recent years than it has in decades — something she herself acknowledged: Mexico must “take advantage” of the situation, she said, because now is “the best opportunity we’ve had in decades to bring investment to Mexico.” The effect was akin to an own goal, given that the increase in prosperity happened during the tenure of Morena president Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Mexico’s crisis of violence and fear, on the other hand, is a winning issue for the opposition — all the more reason for Sheinbaum to barely mention the problem when promoting one of her key platforms: “To maintain peace and security.” But there’s hardly any peace to maintain in Mexico; perhaps a better promise would be to “guarantee” it. The appearance of the former Mexico City police chief Omar García Harfuch, who sat behind Sheinbaum as she delivered her speech, was perhaps an attempt to compensate for this electoral weakness: the issue of unending violence.

The two women vying for the presidency offered another preview of what the campaign might look like if nothing changes. “La más chingona” — “the most badass lady” — as Gálvez was introduced to the crowd, shouted and amped up her followers, moving around the stage of the Arena México and invoking the head-to-head showdown with Sheinbaum with oft-repeated allusions to this more moderate figure from Morena, who is eclipsed, the opposition likes to claim, by the towering figure of her boss, President López Obrador: “If they give you permission, Mrs. Sheinbaum, we’ll see each other in the debates,” Gálvez chided her, insisting on taking digs at her opponent: “Claudia wants Mexicans to be content with what they have; I think they deserve more. Claudia Sheinbaum doesn’t want the poor to stop being poor, because she doesn’t understand Mexico. She comes from privilege, I come from hard work. She’s always lived well off the state budget, off the yellow envelopes [bribes or kickbacks]; I actually know what it’s like to struggle to make ends meet, I know what it’s like to risk my savings in a company, to create jobs; she doesn’t, and that’s why we’re going to win.”

But the arrows slung from the opposition continue to shatter against the cold, hard shield of the Morenista frontrunner, who refuses to take the bait. If the ex-mayor of Mexico City doesn’t change tack, this, too, is how the official campaigning will go. In her closing speech, however, Sheinbaum never once spoke ill of her adversary — not one bad word. If the Morena candidate stays entrenched in her camp, the opposition may get desperate. Sheinbaum’s people are moving with lead feet before they finally enter the ring. “They’re on their way out, they’re on their way out of government!” shouted Gálvez to her supporters. But they haven’t left yet, nor does it look like they will. Sheinbaum has all-but declared herself the winner, and has even assured Morena will come away with a qualified majority in Congress, the party’s top objective. As long as polls continue to show a large gap between candidates, Sheinbaum is unlikely to waste time on diatribes against an opposition that has yet to take off.

The Morenistas appeared on stage as a solid block. They signaled the unity of their party by inviting both friends and enemies to the podium: former Secretary of Foreign Affairs Marcelo Ebrard, who is close to Sheinbaum and competed against her in the primaries; former Secretary of the Interior, Adán Augusto López; former Attorney General Ernestina Godoy, and others. “Long live Mexico, long live President López Obrador, long live the Fourth Transformation!” Sheinbaum concluded.

On Sunday in Mexico City, Gálvez signalled her party’s supposed unity as well. The candidate around whom the PAN, the PRI and the PRD have coalesced, ended her pre-campaign early, surrounded by her fiefdom of supporters from the three coalition parties. As on other occasions, Gálvez extolled the values of each party: “the democratic mystique and civic commitment of the PAN, the experience and knowledge of the PRI, and the vocation for social justice and perseverance of the PRD.” But the divisions and stumbles of her allies are weighing down her campaign significantly, and she knows it: “Let’s leave division and hatred behind,” she said, calling instead for “unity, love and harmony” at the Sunday rally in the capital. This seems unlikely. On Thursday in Acámbaro, a city in the state of Guanajuato, the press presented Gálvez’s rally as “part of her campaign closing.” Had it been the definitive event, it would have been a failure, because only PAN members had accompanied her. And then there’s the attitude in the capital, where everyone seems to agree that her prospects would have been better had she not jumped directly to the presidential ticket.

The same divisions overshadow the third player in the race, Movimiento Ciudadano, which closed its pre-campaign in Nuevo León, the same place where the party’s candidate, Jorge Álvarez Máynez, had launched his campaign, promoted by Nuevo León governor Samuel García. The closing event was overshadowed by the absence of the Governor of Jalisco, Enrique Alfaro, who refused to attend because he was annoyed with the party for the way it has handled the nomination process.

Even so, Máynez led a successful rally. He decried Mexico’s “old politics” and conditions of insecurity, and repeated the catchphrase, “fosfo, fosfo” (short for fosforescente, or phosphorescent, a term that entered Mexican vernacular after Máynez’s Instagram-influencer wife, Mariana Rodríguez, used it in a viral video). He shouted praise left and right: to the party leader, Dante Delgado, to Luis Donaldo Colosio, and to his wife. He also emphasized “the economic prosperity” of Jalisco. “The old politics thought that by taking Samuel out, Movimiento Ciudadano wouldn’t have a presidential candidate,” Máynez said with confidence, microphone in hand and not reading any notes.

The screens surrounding Gálvez at her appearance in the capital on Sunday displayed her speech word for word, while Sheinbaum, not much of a fan of rallies, read hers the old-fashioned, academic way: page by page at a podium. Neither are great political orators, but that’s not what voters expect of them. The two candidates presented similar values and visions for the country — education, healthcare, well-paid jobs. Similar speeches, one from a standpoint of criticism, the other from experience in government. But the personal is also political in this campaign: Gálvez brought up her children, her Indigenous background, and the struggles faced by women. Sheinbaum presented herself as a “woman, mother, grandmother, scientist and humanist.” Ultimately it will be up to the voters to choose, as the campaigning continues.

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