Mexico's woman presidential hopeful jumps in poll

MEXICO CITY Thu Mar 1, 2012 1:14pm EST

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Ruling party presidential hopeful Josefina Vazquez Mota, the first woman candidate of any of Mexico's three main parties, has cut into the lead of front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto ahead of July's election, an opinion poll published on Thursday showed.

Pena Nieto had the support of 36 percent of those surveyed compared to 29 percent for Vazquez Mota and 17 percent for leftist candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, according to the survey in newspaper Milenio.

Vazquez Mota, from the conservative National Action Party (PAN), said on her Twitter feed she was excited about the findings, the first to show a single-digit gap between the two leading candidates.

"The job now is to work tirelessly and in close contact with the people. I am given confidence by, and feel gratitude for, everyone who expressed their opinions in this poll," Vazquez Mota told local radio.

Her support jumped by 8 percentage points from a similar poll in January while support for Pena Nieto, a popular former state governor from the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), dropped by 5 points.

Lopez Obrador's support remained unchanged from the previous poll. He narrowly lost in 2006 to President Felipe Calderon and contested the election results with months of street protests.

The PAN chose Vazquez Mota in February, hoping she can pull independent women and young people away from Pena Nieto, who has led since last year.

VISIBILITY

The Milenio poll, conducted by the firm GEA/ISA, attributed the uptick in support to Vazquez Mota's visibility during the party primaries in which she competed with two other rivals for the nomination.

"The PAN campaign boosted Vazquez Mota's media presence, now we will see if that can be upheld," said Ricardo de la Pena, president of GEA/ISA.

The candidates are in a quiet period before official campaigning begins on March 30.

Support for Calderon's PAN party has slipped as the government struggles to control drug violence, bolster the economy and ease gridlock in the country's legislature.

The centrist PRI is hoping Pena Nieto, 45, can bring a new face to the party, which ruled Mexico for seven decades before it was ousted by the PAN in 2000.

In the GEA/ISA survey, 1,000 people were questioned between February 17 and 19. It had a margin of error of 4 percentage points, as did the January poll.

Other surveys still show a wide gap between Pena Nieto and Vazquez Mota.

Polling firm Consulta Mitofsky last week said the PRI candidate had 40.6 percent support against Vazquez Mota's 24.7 percent. A survey in El Universal newspaper also showed a 16 percent difference between the two rivals.

(Reporting by Miguel Angel Gutierrez and Mica Rosenberg; Editing by Xavier Briand)

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