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PAN revamps stuttering election campaign

April 17, 2012

Following a series of setbacks, National Action Party (PAN) candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota unveiled a new campaign team and strategy this week in an attempt to reinvigorate her bid to become Mexico’s first female president.

Hindered by poor organization and concern over her health, 51-year-old Vazquez Mota has stumbled badly since the official campaign season began on March 31. At a press conference on Monday, the conservative candidate revealed she was reinforcing her staff with “only the best” members of President Felipe Calderon’s government.

“I recognize that is time to redouble efforts,” Vazquez Mota said, “I have decided to change course, I am demanding that we leave the party’s internal conflicts behind and once and for all work together toward victory.”

Vazquez Mota said she will adopt a more aggressive strategy to target voters who remain undecided ahead of the July 1 election – a demographic thought to make up from 20 to 30 percent of the electorate.

“Not a proposal, not a criticism, not an argument from our opponents will be left unanswered,” she vowed.

The former Education Secretary has also undergone a rebranding act to galvanize her campaign, relaunching her website and adopting “Josefina diferente” as her new campaign mantra. Perhaps trying to emulate Barack Obama’s triumphant call for change in the 2008 U.S. elections, Vazquez Mota presumably hopes the slogan will set her apart as “different” from her rivals.

Her gender obviously distinguishes her from the other candidates, but the fact that Vazquez Mota represents the incumbent party and has unveiled few plans that stray from  Calderon’s key policies, it is unclear exactly what she offers that is so distinct.

In fact, Vazquez Mota has just reinforced her campaign team with Calderon loyalists, including his sister Luisa Maria Calderon and former Finance Minister Ernesto Cordero.

Widely believed to have been Calderon’s preferred presidential candidate, Cordero lost out to Vazquez Mota in the party primaries in February. He will act as a campaign strategist, while Luisa Calderon will lead campaigning efforts in her home state of Michoacan.

Other appointments included Juan Ignacio Zavala, a former member of both Calderon and Cordero’s campaign teams, and presidential spokesperson Maximiliano Cortazar.

Vazquez Mota insisted any internal divisions were now “part of the past,” and affirmed that she, not the party elite, was behind the appointments: “Nobody imposes anything or anyone on me, I am in complete freedom and absolute independence.”

She also welcomed senior PAN figures Juan Molinar Horcasitas, Guillermo Anaya and Rafael Gimenez into her inner circle, although original campaign coordinator Roberto Gil Zuarth remains head of her election bid.

The overhaul of Vazquez Mota’s team was initiated last weekend during an emergency planning and evaluation meeting, following her underwhelming start to the campaign. Her troubles began with supporters emptying out of the Estadio Azul in Mexico City before she had even began her speech, having arrived later than scheduled.

Days later, she misspoke during a speech, saying she intended to “strengthen money laundering” if elected. The following day a rally was cancelled due to a small protest of laid-off airline workers.

The biggest setback came on April 2, when Vazquez Mota was taken ill while delivering a speech. Feeling faint, she was forced to interrupt her address and continue sitting down. The episode received widespread television coverage over the following days, prompting speculation over health problems.

Her staff insisted it was a merely a brief spell of low blood pressure, the result of a cold and fatigue from campaigning. In an obvious attempt to demonstrate good health, Vazquez Mota then gave a television interview while performing a morning workout routine at a hotel gym.

PAN Chairman Gustavo Madero accused the media of unfairly focusing on recent kinks in the campaign, while Vazquez Mota hit out at the negative use of social networks such as Twitter. “It is clear there is a strategy of libel and defamation,” from certain users, she complained, having received seemingly unrelenting criticism in recent weeks.

As a result of these recent hiccups, Vazquez Mota has lost ground on her rivals in the polls. A survey by Spanish-language daily Milenio on Tuesday placed Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) candidate Enrique Peña Nieto at a two-to-one advantage over Vazquez Mota, with 52 percent of the vote to her 26 percent. According to the same poll, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who heads a leftist coalition, had risen to 21 percent, narrowing the gap between himself and the PAN candidate.

Another poll published by Parametria on Monday showed Vazquez Mota trailing Pena Nieto by 18 points, with Lopez Obrador a further seven points behind her. Apparently unconcerned, Vazquez Mota insisted the most important poll will be that which takes place on July 1.

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