5 Min Read
* Re-election bid was expected, polls give her big lead
* Second term seen bringing few policy changes
* Fernandez yet to name her running mate (Recasts, adds analyst quote, context)
By Hugh Bronstein
BUENOS AIRES, June 21 (Reuters) - Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said on Tuesday she will seek re-election, vowing to extend the leftist policies that have infuriated investors despite a long economic boom.
Fernandez had been expected to run in the Oct. 23 election although she kept the nation guessing for months, fueling speculation that health concerns or family pressures following her powerful husband's death might persuade her to step aside.
"We're going to keep going forward ... I always knew what I should do and what I had to do," Fernandez said in a televised speech, without saying who would be her running mate.
"How could I give up and not keep going?" said Fernandez, still dressed in black as she mourns her husband and predecessor as president, Nestor Kirchner, who died last year.
Fernandez often pledges to deepen the interventionist economic and social policies begun eight years ago by Kirchner, who was elected on the ashes of Argentina's devastating 2001-02 economic and political crisis.
Farmers and business leaders in Latin America's No. 3 economy, a leading global grains supplier, often decry the president's policies, saying they drive away investment.
Local financial markets tumbled when Fernandez pushed the surprise nationalization of private pensions in 2008 and farmers staged months of strikes that year over her attempt to hike taxes on soy shipments.
But such policies have been popular with many Argentines and numerous polls show her with enough support to win the election in a first round and avert a run-off vote. Her approval rating has risen to above 50 percent since last year.
Political analysts say her popularity is also closely tied to the robust economic growth of the last eight years in Argentina and the absence of a strong rival challenger to unite a splintered opposition.
GRAPHIC: Stormy first term r.reuters.com/fum49r
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Jim Barrineau, a New York-based strategist for ICE Canyon, a $2 billion emerging markets hedge fund, said the market expects Fernandez to win in October.
"The opposition is fragmented, while she's got the sympathy vote and the economy remains strong," he said, referring to public reaction following Kirchner's death.
"All of the issues that are of concern to investors will have to be dealt with by her during her second term. But no one expects a radical policy shift," he added.
A lawyer who served as a provincial and national senator, Fernandez was better known than Kirchner when he was elected president in 2003.
Credited with pulling Argentina out of a deep economic crisis, Kirchner would have easily won re-election in 2007 but instead stood aside for his wife to run. He was her closest adviser and until his death it was widely believed that he would be the one to run in this year's election.
Many investors hoped his death marked the beginning of the end of the presidential couple's interventionist policies, but Fernandez's popularity has since surged, lifted by the strong economy and public sympathy for the mourning widow.
Loose monetary and fiscal policies are helping stoke growth, which clocked a sizzling 9.2 percent last year, and Fernandez's government will likely work to keep the economy hot in the run-up to the election.
While analysts expect Fernandez to maintain the unorthodox and volatile policies of her first term if she is re-elected, some believe she will eventually have to address inflation, which is believed to be running at well above the official rate of around 10 percent.
Fernandez's term in office has been far more turbulent than her late husband's 2003-2007 presidency. Her approval ratings sank to lows of about 20 percent during a messy conflict with farmers over her bid to raise soy taxes in 2008.
Voters rejected her combative approach, dealing her a bloody nose in mid-term legislative elections a year later, and the farm conflict also caused an acrimonious split with her vice president, Julio Cobos.
Fernandez, however, has enjoyed a steady recovery since 2009 in tandem with an economic rebound and the failure of opponents to gain traction and forge alliances strong enough to mount a convincing challenge. (Additional reporting by Jorge Otaola and Helen Popper; Writing by Helen Popper; Editing by Anthony Boadle) (firstname.lastname@example.org; +54 11 4318 0655; Reuters Messaging: email@example.com))