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BUENOS AIRES, June 6 (Reuters) - Argentine President Cristina Fernandez has a comfortable lead in opinion polls less than five months before the presidential election in October and looks ready to announce her candidacy in late June.
Under a new law that sets primary elections for August, politicians have until June 25 to register as candidates.
The field of opposition contenders is taking shape as the deadline nears. Several high-profile challengers, including Buenos Aires Mayor Mauricio Macri and Vice President Julio Cobos, quit the race in recent weeks as others fine-tune their electoral alliances. [ID:nN065085]
Fernandez is expected to keep voters and allies guessing until the last minute over whether she will seek a second term. [ID:nN30241693] [ID:nN31293918]
Here are profiles of the main potential presidential candidates:
Fernandez's approval ratings are running at about 50 percent, their highest since she was elected in 2007 to succeed her husband Nestor Kirchner as president. Kirchner's death late last year boosted her popularity, which was already recovering due to robust economic growth and the opposition's disarray.
Numerous polls suggest she could win enough support in the Oct. 23 election to avert a run-off vote, giving her a clear mandate to deepen the interventionist economic policies started by Kirchner in 2003.
Fernandez vows to intensify current social and economic policies but analysts say she could be forced to take steps to tame double-digit inflation if she is re-elected. She will likely delay any controversial reforms, such as slashing utility subsidies, until after the election.
Her choice of a running mate could provide crucial clues on the direction of a second term, especially as union boss Hugo Moyano pushes for her to include more labor figures on electoral lists. Leftist allies would likely resist any moves to increase Moyano's influence. [ID:nN22178023]
RICARDO ALFONSIN -- CENTER-LEFT RADICAL PARTY CONGRESSMAN
Alfonsin rose to prominence after the death two years ago of his famous father, former President Raul Alfonsin, who led Argentina between 1983 and 1989.
He is the strongest opposition contender but trails far behind Fernandez in the polls and has the Radical party's poor governing record against him. The last Radical president to finish his term was Marcelo Torcuato de Alvear in 1928 and Alfonsin's father handed over power early as spiraling prices wreaked havoc in 1989.
Alfonsin's choice of a running mate, economist and former central bank president Javier Gonzalez Fraga, could boost his economic credentials. Gonzalez Fraga shares the economic ideas of Kirchner's former Economy Minister Roberto Lavagna -- the architect of Argentina's 2005 debt restructuring.
Alfonsin tried to persuade respected Socialist governor Hermes Binner to be his running mate. But the Socialists and other small leftist parties were unhappy with Alfonsin's pact with center-right congressman Francisco De Narvaez in the key electoral district of Buenos Aires. Binner might now launch his own presidential bid, backed by the leftist parties.
Duhalde, who governed briefly as Argentina emerged from an acute economic crisis in 2001-02, was once a backer of Kirchner but they fell out and he is now a prominent figure in the dissident ranks of the ruling Peronist party.
Duhalde remains an influential figure in Peronism because of his links with powerful mayors in the working-class suburbs of Buenos Aires. Some recent polls have put him in second place ahead of Alfonsin but his support is in single digits in other surveys and he has a high rejection rating. Some analysts say he could benefit from Macri's decision to quit the race.
Duhalde is the best known dissident Peronist challenger but support from right-leaning Peronists could be split between him and Alberto Rodriguez Saa, a provincial governor. Duhalde has picked another dissident Peronist governor, Mario Das Neves, as his running mate.
Anti-corruption crusader Carrio came in second in the 2007 presidential election behind Fernandez but she has lost ground since then, hurt by a series of fights with allies and public impatience with her apocalyptic warnings of impending doom.
A lawyer from the poor northern province of Chaco, Carrio is a sharp-tongued critic of the government and has recently taken aim at union leader Moyano. One of her most prominent collaborators is former central bank chief Alfonso Prat Gay.
A pact with her estranged Radical allies or the Socialists would make sense from an ideological perspective but past disputes make deal-making unlikely. According to consultants Management & Fit, Carrio has the second-highest rejection rating among leading politicians after Duhalde.
A maverick governor and member of the dissident Peronist wing, Rodriguez Saa has dominated politics for years in his home province of San Luis with his brother Adolfo, who served as president for a week during Argentina's 2001-02 crisis.
Polls show him as an outsider but he could attract conservative Peronist votes, especially if Duhalde ends up forging an alliance with other groups.
Rodriguez Saa, an art lover and green crusader, advocates a tough line on crime and says he would work to bring down inflation, restore credibility to the statistics agency and limit state intervention in the economy, especially farming.
Binner, governor of Santa Fe province, has not said whether he will run for president but speculation has grown that he may launch his own campaign after talks broke down with Alfonsin.
An announcement could follow a June 11 party meeting.
Binner, a doctor, is the first Socialist to head a provincial government and he is well respected in the key agro-industrial province, home to the Rosario grains port.
If Binner runs, he would be supported by smaller leftist parties including the GEN, which is focused on Buenos Aires province, and the Proyecto Sur party of congressman Fernando "Pino" Solanas. He could steal votes from Alfonsin and Carrio, further denting their ability to pose a threat to Fernandez.
Without Binner, the Socialists would struggle to field a strong presidential candidate. (Editing by John O'Callaghan)