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In Mexico, presidential candidates opt for friendly ground to show their strength at the start of the campaign

The candidate for the ruling party, Claudia Sheinbaum, aims to fill the biggest plaza in Mexico City. Xóchitl Gálvez — representing the main opposition coalition — has retreated to her stronghold in Guanajuato

Jorge Álvarez Máynez, Claudia Sheinbaum y Xóchitl Gálvez
From left to right, presidential candidates Jorge Álvarez Máynez, Claudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez.EFE / Cuartoscuro / Getty
Carmen Morán Breña

The candidates who will contest the 2024 Mexican presidential elections began their campaigns in safe territory… that is, where they have the most support.

Claudia Sheinbaum — the standard-bearer for the ruling MORENA party — will present her governing program in the Zócalo, the main plaza in Mexico City, where a huge crowd is expected on March 1. The capital is, without a doubt, her political fiefdom: she was previously the head of the government of Mexico City, where she still has a 68% approval rating, according to the latest Enkoll survey commissioned by EL PAÍS. It won’t be difficult for her to fill the enormous plaza, where political candidates usually compete to have the biggest crowd.

Meanwhile, Xóchitl Gálvez — the presidential candidate for the opposition coalition, made up of the PAN, PRI and PRD — will officially kick off her campaign at midnight on Thursday, February 29, in the city of Fresnillo, the state capital of Zacatecas. She will quickly continue her journey through the city of Aguascalientes (also in the same state) before reaching a rally with thousands of followers in Irapuato, in the state of Guanajuato. This is a stronghold of the PAN (the right-wing National Action Party, which governed Mexico from 2000 until 2012).

Polling a distant third is Jorge Álvarez Máynez. He will be visiting the states of Sonora, Jalisco and Nuevo León this weekend, some of the places where his Citizen’s Movement hopes to rally supporters and gain a foothold.

Xóchitl Gálvez changed her plans a few times before settling on Zacatecas and Guanajuato. At first, her campaign said that the opening rally would be in the capital. But then, the opposition coalition opted for safe territory — albeit “safe” in strictly political terms. Few would choose to be out and about in Fresnillo or Irapuato after midnight. Fresnillo, in fact, is the municipality in which citizens perceive the greatest insecurity in Mexico. This sentiment is quite accurate when you compare it to the numbers of victims of organized crime in the area. The Gálvez campaign deliberately chose it as the first stop, noting in a statement that the city is “symbolic for the moment that the country is going through. Although it’s not the only one, Fresnillo is the icon of many places in Mexico that remain similar to a ‘no man’s land,’ without authority, where people are fleeing.”

Insecurity will be a recurring theme for the opposition. They quote the same statistics over and over again: there are 100 murders a day in Mexico. “It has been the worst six-year term,” her team points out. Guanajuato is also a good place to present the electoral program that the opposition has prepared, which focuses on curbing violence. Of course, insecurity won’t be the only topic that’s discussed — healthcare and the lack of medicines in the country are key issues for Gálvez.

Sheinbaum has previously said that she will announce the pillars of her platform at the start of the campaign, which will culminate in the polls on June 2. But the first detail is the location. No surprises are expected for her rally in the Zócalo, scheduled for Friday, March 1. It’s safe territory for her and it will be full. The location is also a symbol of her administrative experience. In the face of the poor crime statistics nationwide, she often repeats the far better figures reported in the capital, which she oversaw from 2018 until 2023. She takes credit for having reduced crime in Mexico City during her mandate.

However, in various parts of the country — such as the state of Zacatecas, a MORENA stronghold — effective management over public safety cannot be claimed. Hence, when she campaigns beyond the capital, Sheinbaum will likely be accompanied by the leadership of her party, which managed to keep the organization united for the 2024 polls.

Gálvez also has strong roots in the capital, but trying to compete with the incumbent party’s candidate wouldn’t have been a wise step at this phase of the campaign. Guanajuato allows her to avoid comparisons, while also guaranteeing the massive rally that’s expected at the start of the race.

The Citizens’ Movement will also look for emblematic places that offer a large concentration of party members and sympathizers. Those from the orange party started the campaign late… that is, on time. But the first candidate to enter the primaries, Governor Samuel García, had to throw in the towel. Finally, it was Álvarez Máynez — a federal legislator — who picked up the baton. Less known than the governor of Nuevo León, he nevertheless has the full support of his former rival and other senators and deputies from the state, who will rally the faithful to receive their presidential candidate in large numbers. Álvarez Máynez will also likely head over to the state of Jalisco, where the Citizens’ Movement holds the governorship.

Sonora is the third state on the orange agenda for the upcoming weekend. It was the one that made the least sense, until the delegation decided to schedule a stop in Magdalena de Kino, Luis Donaldo Colosio’s homeland. Colosio, a reformer, was assassinated at a campaign rally in Tijuana during the presidential elections of 1994. He has a place in the hearts of the majority of Mexicans, meaning that a stop in his stronghold is quite impactful. In fact, his son — Colosio Riojas — is currently the mayor of Monterrey, and unlike his father (a member of the PRI), he’s a member of the Citizens’ Movement. He’s also currently running for senator, on Álvarez Máynez’ roster.

The weight of the Colosio surname — among other things — gives the mayor of Monterrey enormous support among the Mexican citizenry. He was perhaps best-placed to be on the presidential ticket for his party, but he declined. His time will come: at only 38, he’s still young.

During the nomination of Álvarez Máynez, Colosio Riojas’ speech invoked the figure of his father. Politics doesn’t exist without symbols.

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