The Dallas Morning News
Tuesday, July 6, 2004

PRI claims victory in 2 governor races

Outcome a blow to Fox; Zacatecas elects woman to top job for first time

By ALFREDO CORCHADO / The Dallas Morning News

CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico Mexico's former ruling party claimed victory in two of three key state governor races Monday, dealing a major blow to President Vicente Fox's National Action Party.

With the majority of the ballots tabulated from Sunday's election, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, easily won in the states of Chihuahua and Durango.

With 95 percent of the votes counted, Jose Reyes Baeza was claiming victory in the race for governor of Chihuahua, with 56 percent. Javier Corral of the National Action Party, or PAN, had 42 percent.

In Durango, with 79 percent of the votes counted, Ismael Hernandez of the PRI was declaring victory over his nearest PAN rival, Andres Galvan, 57 percent to 32 percent.

In Zacatecas, voters ushered in the first female governor, Amalia Garcia of the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD. The party retained the seat occupied by outgoing Gov. Ricardo Monreal, who has declared his candidacy for the 2006 presidential race. With more than 80 percent of the votes counted, Ms. Garcia was claiming victory with 46 percent; Pepe Bonilla of the PRI had 33 percent.

Ms. Garcia called for unity and said her most pressing priority as governor will be creating jobs to stem the flow of immigration.

Overall, analysts said, the results dealt a sobering message to Mr. Fox's PAN party, which also lost congressional seats in last year's midterm elections. Looking ahead, polls show the PAN is expected to hold on to the small central state of Aguascalientes, while an opposition alliance led by the PAN could topple the PRI in the key southern state of Oaxaca.

"It's not that Fox isn't popular," said pollster Daniel Lund of Mund Americas. "He just doesn't seem to help his party much. He doesn't have the institutional coattails to help out the PAN."

A poll Monday by the Mexico City daily El Universal showed Mr. Fox's rating increasing to 60 percent from 53 percent in April.

The losses in the northern states are especially serious for the conservative party, which historically has looked to the more prosperous north for support. Last year, the PAN failed to win in the northern states of Sonora and Nuevo Leon.

The results, wrote Reforma columnist Roberto Zamarripa, signal the end of the so-called "barbarians of the north," a reference to PAN political leaders who in the 1980s led Mexico's democratic change.

The only consolation for the PAN in this state, it appeared, was claiming the City Halls of Chihuahua City and Cuauhtemoc.

But the PRI proved to be so resilient that it also claimed the City Hall in this troubled border town, considered the electoral prize of the state. The loss of more than 100,000 jobs over the last three years took its toll on the PAN in Ciudad Juárez.

"I just thought Teto had a broader, more realistic plan to jumpstart the Juárez economy," Froylan Salinas Leon, 20, a clerk, said in reference to businessman Hector "Teto" Murguia, the PRI mayoral candidate.

Jesus Alejandro Contreras, 26, also voted for the PRI because "it's important that the governor and mayor work together. With politicians from opposing parties, Juárenses were repeatedly ignored by the state," he said, pointing to the rising crime in this city and the unsolved murders of more than 300 women.

In an interview with Radio Monitor on Monday, Mr. Reyes Baeza said his most immediate challenge was creating jobs and stemming the exodus of foreign factory jobs not just to China, but also to India and other parts of Latin America. Saying that "the crime wave is limited mostly to Juárez," he also pledged to clean up local and state police forces.

"We have known that some agents at the local, state and federal level are accomplices to some of the crimes," he said. "We have to clean up those forces and improve the lines of investigation."