* President wins resounding re-election victory
* Exit poll gives her 55 percent of vote, massive lead
* Seen maintaining big spending, interventionist policies
* Worsening global economy could force changes
(Recasts throughout, adds fresh quotes, color)
By Helen Popper and Terry Wade
BUENOS AIRES, Oct 23 Argentina's fiery
center-leftist president, Cristina Fernandez, swept to a
landslide re-election victory on Sunday, crowning a comeback
that seemed unthinkable for much of her turbulent first term.
An exit poll showed Fernandez winning with 55 percent of
the vote, about 40 percentage points ahead of her nearest
rival, Socialist Hermes Binner.
No Argentine leader has won such a big share of the vote
since Gen. Juan Domingo Peron was elected with 62 percent in
1973, and Fernandez's supporters celebrated in downtown Buenos
Aires, waving blue-and-white flags and chanting.
If confirmed by official results, the scale of Fernandez's
victory would give her a strong mandate to deepen the
unconventional and interventionist economic policies that play
well with many voters but irritate investors and farmers.
It marks a dramatic change of fortunes for a leader who
some critics once said might have to leave power early as angry
protests by farmers and middle-class voters battered her
approval ratings soon after she took office.
When her husband and predecessor as president, Nestor
Kirchner, died a year ago, many thought it spelled the end of
the couple's idiosyncratic blend of state intervention,
nationalist rhetoric and the championing of human rights.
Instead, it prompted a wave of nostalgia for the best years
of Kirchner's 2003-2007 presidency and sympathy for a woman who
suddenly seemed more likable.
A skilled orator fond of glamorous clothes and make-up,
Fernandez still wears black as she mourns her husband and
closest advisor. His image featured heavily in her campaign.
A splintered opposition and brisk economic growth helped
Fernandez turn the sympathy vote into solid support.
Despite double-digit inflation and other signs of strain as
global conditions worsen, Argentina's economy is growing at
about 8 percent a year and has regained some of its glory as
the "breadbasket of the world" as grains shipments rise.
Unemployment is at a 20-year low.
Voters with memories of the hyperinflation of the late
1980s and a severe economic crisis 10 years ago have good
reason to think things could be worse than they are today.
"Crises come and go here and instability's exhausting
because you make plans and they keep going to waste," said
Marta Rey, 50, a teacher who voted for Fernandez's Peronist
party for the first time on Sunday. "It gives me a certain
security for my son and for the future."
Fernandez's supporters highlight progress on expanding
pensions coverage, child welfare benefits and the construction
of schools and homes.
The scale of Fernandez's victory belies fierce opposition
to her combative, heavy-handed style -- typical of the Peronist
party that has dominated Argentine politics for decades.
"It's a complete mess ... the corruption, the inflation,
lies, authoritarianism. We've got used to living like this,"
said Juan Tofalo, 43, a newspaper vendor in Buenos Aires.
Allegations of corruption and murky dealings have stalked
the government for years, although there have been no
A recent crackdown on economists whose inflation estimates
double the official rate of a discredited state statistics
agency is typical of Fernandez's controversial methods, who
some critics say resemble those of Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.
Businesses are routinely strong-armed into price control
agreements -- her main weapon against surging prices -- and
deals to increase their exports as the trade surplus dwindles.
When a leading newspaper and cable news channel owned by
the Grupo Clarin conglomerate criticized her handling of the
farm revolt, Fernandez hit back. The company was stripped of a
key operating license and "Clarin Lies" posters appeared across
In 2008, at the height of the global financial crisis,
Fernandez stunned financial markets by nationalizing private
pensions. A year later, she fired the head of the central bank
when he refused to hand over foreign reserves to pay debt.
Such measures, coupled with high inflation and lax monetary
and fiscal policy are dimly viewed on Wall Street, where
economists say Latin America's third-biggest economy could be
heading for a hard landing as global conditions sour.
Few analysts think she will change course unless she is
forced to by a sharp slowdown in neighboring powerhouse Brazil
or lower prices for Argentina's key exports of corn and soy.
Fernandez has outlined few concrete policy proposals,
vowing only to "deepen the model."
"We know very little (about her plans)," said Mariel
Fornoni, a pollster at the Management & Fit consulting firm.
"It's turned into a kind of absolute rule. Cristina decides
(Additional reporting by Guido Nejamkis and Alejandro
Lifschitz; Editing by Kieran Murray)