Mexico's presidential front-runner dips in poll

MEXICO CITY Tue Jan 10, 2012 4:22pm EST

Enrique Pena Nieto, presidential candidate for the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), addresses the crowd during an appearance to support his party's candidate for mayor after their electoral win was annulled in Morelia January 2, 2012.  REUTERS/Leovigildo Gonzalez

Enrique Pena Nieto, presidential candidate for the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), addresses the crowd during an appearance to support his party's candidate for mayor after their electoral win was annulled in Morelia January 2, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Leovigildo Gonzalez

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Support for the frontrunner in Mexico's presidential race, opposition candidate Enrique Pena Nieto, fell by 2.6 percentage points in the first poll of the year after a series of public gaffes dented his lead.

The poll, conducted by Consulta Mitofsky, showed the former governor from the populous State of Mexico garnering 42 percent support when compared to the other two top candidates, a dip from the last survey in November when he received 44.6 percent.

The slip comes after a series of public embarrassments that hit the popularity of the carefully groomed contender for the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

The PRI ruled Mexico for seven decades before being toppled in 2000 by the ruling conservative National Action Party (PAN) party and is now angling to win back power.

Pena Nieto, 45, is hoping his youthful, energetic image will win over voters wary of returning the PRI's old guard to power.

But he recently flubbed several public appearances, first struggling to name a single book beyond the Bible that had influenced him and then failing to know the minimum wage or the cost of corn tortillas, a staple Mexican food.

President Felipe Calderon's PAN still has not picked an official candidate but leading in the ranks of PAN contenders is the only woman in the race, Josefina Vazquez Mota.

Support for her candidacy rose to 20.8 percent in the Mitofsky survey, a steady climb since September of last year when she scored 17.2 percent.

Vazquez Mota, 50, who was Calderon's education minister before becoming a leader in the lower house of Congress, is battling for the candidacy with former finance minister Ernesto Cordero and seasoned PAN politician Santiago Creel.

Among PAN voters, Cordero and Creel were trailing Vazquez Mota by more than 10 points according to Mitofsky's poll.

Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, former Mexico City mayor and the candidate for the leftist PRD party, narrowly lost the 2006 election to Calderon but is now gaining support as he drops his fiery left-wing rhetoric for a more moderate platform.

The poll showed Lopez Obrador with 17.2 percent support compared to the other top contenders, up from 16.1 percent in November.

Lopez Obrador promises to bring the army back to barracks, effectively reversing Calderon's deployment of troops in a war against drug cartels that has killed more than 46,000 people in the last five years.

But he is still a divisive figure in Mexico, having alienated centrist voters by launching massive protests that choked the capital for months after his razor-thin 2006 loss.

Polling 1,000 people from December 26 to 29, the survey had a 95 percent confidence rate, and a margin of error of up to 3.1 percentage points.

(Reporting by Anahi Rama, Mica Rosenberg and Julie Gordon; Editing by Eric Walsh)

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