| MEXICO CITY
MEXICO CITY With less than two weeks to go until Mexico's presidential election, front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto has consolidated his lead over his closest rival, new polls showed on Tuesday, strengthening predictions he will sail to victory on July 1.
A poll in the Reforma newspaper showed Pena Nieto's lead climbing four percentage points to 42 percent while support for leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador fell by four points to 30 percent.
The result was a turnaround from Reforma's previous poll on May 31, which showed a surprising four-point gap between the two candidates, raising questions about a closer-than-expected race.
But the latest survey from the paper is now in sync with nearly every other major poll, which put Pena Nieto, the candidate of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), ahead by double digits.
Lopez Obrador, the leftist former mayor of Mexico City, lost the 2006 election to President Felipe Calderon in a tight finish and contested the results, staging months of protests and rattling investors in Latin America's second-largest economy.
The fiery orator said there was widespread fraud in the vote and declared himself the "legitimate president of Mexico."
While Lopez Obrador has said he will respect the election outcome this time around, he rejected Tuesday's Reforma poll as an error and insisted he was leading the race.
"I think what happened here was a mistake, we are still ahead," Lopez Obrador said on the campaign trail.
His campaign team then issued a statement accusing the PRI of offering to pay voters for votes in favor of Pena Nieto if they snapped a picture of their ballot with cell phones.
"Buying votes is a crime," he said in the statement. "We are going to issue a call to avoid election fraud."
Josefina Vazquez Mota, candidate of the ruling National Action Party (PAN), was lagging in third place with 24 percent backing, Reforma said.
Calderon's party has struggled in the election, with voters disenchanted with drug war violence that has killed some 55,000 people in less than six years.
A separate poll published on Tuesday showed Pena Nieto holding a wide lead. The survey by Consulta Mitofsky gave Pena Nieto 37.6 percent of the vote versus 24.3 percent for Lopez Obrador and 20.8 percent for Vazquez Mota.
Support for Lopez Obrador surged last month after the emergence of a student movement attacking Pena Nieto and the PRI, which ruled Mexico for 71 years before losing an election to the conservative PAN in 2000.
The PRI's long rule was tarnished by accusations of corruption and repression and the students say a vote for Pena Nieto would be a return to the past, rejecting the photogenic 45-year-old's claim that he represents a new face of the PRI.
The student group 'Yo soy 132' (I am 132) are staging large protests and speaking out against the domination of the country's media by two main TV broadcasters. The group's name is derived from a student protest in May.
The group hosted its own parallel debate on Tuesday after two nationally televised face-offs between the candidates, but Pena Nieto declined the invitation, saying the set up would be biased against his candidacy.
Many of the students have rallied around Lopez Obrador, seen as an alternative to the conservative government and the PRI.
Most of that support, though, is concentrated in traditionally more liberal Mexico City and the center of the country, where Lopez Obrador is leading Pena Nieto by 3 percentage points, the Reforma poll showed.
Even if Lopez Obrador does not win the race, the recent boost for his candidacy raises the possibility that his leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) will have a strong showing in Congress, denting the PRI's majority.
Pena Nieto promises to move forward on much-needed fiscal and energy reforms that stalled under Calderon and will have an easier time if the PRI wins a strong mandate in Congress.
Both the Reforma and Mitofsky poll showed the PRI, in coalition with the smaller Green Party, winning the most seats in the lower house of Congress and Senate.
"We think the eventuality of Pena Nieto winning the Presidential election on July 1 is a material positive for the markets, not least because all the indications are that the legislative branch will also be controlled by the PRI," said Bulltick Capital Markets in a research note.
The PRD, along with an alliance of leftist parties that have opposed reforms in the past, should be the second-strongest power in the legislature, the polls showed.
The Reforma poll surveyed 1,515 voters between June 14 and 17 and had a margin of error of 2.8 percent. The Mitofsky survey was taken around the same time with a margin of error of 3.1 percent.
(Additional reporting by Dave Graham and Anahi Rama; editing by Simon Gardner and Todd Eastham)