LA PLATA, Argentina (Reuters) - The political beliefs of Argentine presidential front-runner Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner were forged in the country's turbulent 1970s when she was a leftist activist and law student.
Fernandez, 54, has retained the combative style of her '70s activism during an 18-year legislative career, saying she remains faithful to the ideals of social justice and human rights formed in her youth.
Polls forecast her winning 45 percent of Sunday's vote -- far ahead of closest rival Elisa Carrio, another woman lawmaker -- and succeeding her husband President Nestor Kirchner, who is popular after four years of robust economic recovery.
If she wins, Fernandez's determined style is likely to shape her presidency, along with key policies of state intervention in the economy, a weak currency to boost exports and deals with businesses and unions to tame inflation.
When she explains her views, Fernandez often refers to her days in the leftist wing of the Peronist Party student movement. "I got into politics when it was almost impossible to dissent because it was prohibited," she has said.
She and Kirchner met and married when they were both in law school in La Plata, a university town and capital of Argentina's most populous province, and formed a political partnership that has lasted three decades.
In the leftist hotbed of La Plata, her generation was shaped by the military dictatorships of the 1950s and 1960s -- when the populist Peronism movement was banned.
Adam Hook, a student in the La Plata Peronist Youth during the '70s and a professor now, said: "We were really committed to politics from when we were young because we were coming out of harsh military laws and bans." He did not know the Kirchners then.
Fernandez was a bright and opinionated teenager and a vehement debater, said Olga Wornat, a writer who knew Fernandez during her student days and wrote a biography on her.
"She was the same as now. She argued things to death. She argued with her own (party) bosses. She detested anyone who tried to impose anything on her," Wornat said.
The leftist student movements of the early '70s demanded the return of exiled former President Juan Peron, who eventually came back and was elected president in 1973.
Peron died the next year and his third wife, Isabel Peron, became president before being ousted by a military coup. The 1976-1983 dirty war followed and the military killed as many as 30,000 leftists and dissidents.
Almost 700 of the victims came from the university at La Plata, 30 miles south of the capital Buenos Aires.
Several friends of the Kirchners were kidnapped, and they fled to his childhood home in Patagonia, where they worked as real estate lawyers and began their political careers.
Fernandez says everything in her life since then has taken a back seat to politics.
She recalls sitting in her seat in the provincial legislature 17 years ago when she went into labor with her second child.
As the Kirchners rose to the national stage -- Fernandez in the senate and Kirchner as president -- they touted anti-establishment convictions and relied on a close knit group of advisors.
In power, the Kirchners fought to reverse amnesty laws and bring military officers to trial for torture and killings during the dirty war.
Fernandez has a reputation for stubbornness and impatience, and she herself jokes about her confrontational character.
But she says she learned to negotiate during her time as a lawmaker when she led human rights causes.
Business leaders, who were bullied by Kirchner into capping prices and giving a bigger role to the state, hope she will be more open to dialogue than he was.
In a recent luncheon with business leaders in Buenos Aires, Fernandez took pains to say she is not against business profit, but urged companies to be socially responsible.