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Mexicans Lukewarm About Presidential Election

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As Mexicans prepare to elect a new president Sunday, the clear front-runner is Enrique Pena Nieto, who is seeking to return his PRI party to power after 12 years.

The PRI, or Institutional Revolutionary Party, ruled Mexico for more than 70 years before being ousted in 2000. Most polls show Pena Nieto with a comfortable double-digit lead in the race.

But unlike the two most recent presidential elections, in 2000 and 2006, this one has not caught the imagination of voters or stirred passions. Many Mexican appear lukewarm about the race even though the country faces issues like a drug war that has claimed some 50,000 lives in recent years.

At an outdoor market in the city of Texoco, in the central state of Mexico, the campaigns of the major candidates have tried hard to garner attention. One candidate gave everyone in the market tarps with his face and his party's logo on it; another passed out bright yellow aprons.

A Lackluster Campaign

Guadalupe Gaspar, who sells bracelets, barrettes and children's books, says she's had enough of the campaigning and doesn't find any of the three major candidates appealing.

"I don't like any of them," she says. "There's the woman candidate. I'm told to vote for her because she's a woman. Then there's the guy the TV stations love ... or the one on the left who hasn't said anything new in years. None of them are worth my time."

Gaspar is 28, a single mother, and reflects a large group of independent and undecided voters in the election. Pollsters say as many as 20 percent of voters remain undecided and possibly 35 percent of the electorate may just sit this one out.

Election propaganda is everywhere. From glossy posters plastering light posts in small towns to the huge billboards along Mexico City's traffic-clogged boulevards.

Araceli Ortiz, who sells fried bananas at the market, says she doesn't dare to turn on her TV these days.

She says its flooded with ads and they're confusing.

Candidates Saturate The Airwaves

It is hard to turn on the TV without hearing a catchy tune, a promising slogan or seeing images of the three major candidates: Pena Nieto, Josephina Vazquez Mota of the National Action Party or leftist Andres Manel Lopez Obrador.

Turnout is expected to be about 65 percent. That's about what it was in the 2000 presidential race.

But pollster Jorge Buendia says that reflects a much-needed cleaning up of the electoral rolls rather than voter enthusiasm.

"This race doesn't have the same level of excitement as the race in 2006 had," he says. "The race is not that close and there wasn't a clear candidate who was the embodiment of change."

He says the candidates haven't distinguished themselves with clear solutions to fix Mexico's problems so the campaigns have centered more on the personalities of the candidates.

Buendia's lastest poll, released this week with The Dallas Morning News, shows the PRI's Pena Nieto leading by 17 points over Lopez Obrador. Vazquez Mota, the first female candidate on a major-party ticket, is trailing in third.

Eric Olson, of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., says even the devastating drug war of the last six years isn't No. 1 on the mind of voters.

"There just hasn't been a large driving issue that's really gotten people excited," he says.

He says polling in Mexico and most of Latin America isn't an exact science and it's possible the undecided voters could surprise cynics and cause an upset.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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