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When Mexicans go to the polls on July 1 to choose their next president, a woman will be among the candidates, the first from a major political party. She belongs to the National Action Party — or PAN — the party of current President Felipe Calderon.
On a recent visit to the Mexican border city of Juarez, Josefina Vazquez Mota steps onto a catwalk that juts into the center of a long banquet hall crammed with table after table of women. When she speaks, they cheer.
It's Vazquez Mota's first official campaign visit to Ciudad Juarez, but she is no stranger to the city. It's where she got her start in politics as a federal representative for a cluster of northern Mexican states. She visited Juarez at a time when foreign factory jobs were drawing in thousands of women from across Mexico.
"The women of Juarez are tireless fighters; they are courageous," Vazquez Mota tells them.
New Role Model
Some of that must have rubbed off on her. Vazquez Mota, 51, says her experience in northern Mexico was empowering. She is an economist who most recently served as secretary of education under Calderon.
Although happily married, Vazquez Mota wrote a best-selling book with an eyebrow-raising title, Dear God, Please Make Me A Widow. The book urges women to take initiative in their lives. Now, playing off that title, she carries campaign posters that say, "Dear God, Please Make Me President."
Outside the banquet hall the crowd pulses with girl power. A gang of female bikers poses for pictures beside their motorcycles. They're wearing leather vests imprinted with Vazquez Mota's image.
One woman standing by is Alejandra Marquez. A young architect who is visibly pregnant, with her second child, she's also a fan of Vazquez Mota.
"I think she's a good role model. She can be a very good leader for the country. We are proud that she's a woman," Marquez says.
Uphill Battle In Calderon's Shadow
Like most people in Mexico, Marquez's top concern this election is security. Calderon has led an unprecedented offensive against the country's powerful drug cartels.
But six years into the fight, more than 50,000 people have died and violence continues to spread across the country. Vazquez Mota has tried to distance herself from Calderon with the slogan "Josefina is different." She has pledged to crack down on government corruption.
Tony Payan, who teaches political science across the border in El Paso, Texas, agrees with Vazquez Mota. "I think part of the problem is that we have not fought corruption. We have to go after the politicians," Payan says. "And in the last few speeches that she has given, she has made it very clear that it's about going after corrupt politicians who collaborate with organized crime."
The campaign has proved an uphill battle for Vazquez Mota. After a strong start, the latest poll shows her in third place. The front-runner in the race is Enrique Peña Nieto, who belongs to the PRI — the party that ruled Mexico for 71 consecutive years, from 1929 to 2000.
Still, about 25 percent of Mexicans say they're undecided, while protests by young voters may continue to shift the popularity of all four candidates in the race.