MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico’s ruling party overhauled its candidate’s struggling presidential campaign on Monday, unveiling a new team and promising a more aggressive strategy to woo undecided voters after a string of public missteps.
Josefina Vazquez Mota, aspiring to become Mexico’s first woman president in the July 1 election, said her conservative National Action Party, or PAN, had been bogged down by infighting following a drawn-out primary.
Vazquez Mota is battling to close a wide gap with front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto from the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for most of the 20th century.
The former congresswoman and Cabinet member - acknowledging fumbles in the first official days of the race - held a packed news conference flanked by the PAN party chairman and more than two dozen strategists and organizers, including many close to President Felipe Calderon.
The president, who is prohibited from seeking a second term, was widely believed to have supported former Finance Minister Ernesto Cordero for the party’s nomination in a February primary election won by Vazquez Mota.
Cordero joined Vazquez Mota on Monday as a new strategist for the campaign, and Calderon’s sister, Luisa Maria Calderon, was put in charge of the get-out-the-vote effort in the president’s home state of Michoacan.
“I have decided to change course, I am demanding that we leave the party’s internal conflicts behind and once and for all work together toward victory,” Vazquez Mota said.
Armed with a campaign slogan: “Josefina is Different,” Vazquez Mota is seeking to delicately separate herself from the government’s less popular policies while drawing support from Calderon’s inner circle.
She pledged to retool the government’s security strategy with a more humane focus on victims of drug war violence, which has killed more than 50,000 people in the past five years.
Victims’ groups have criticized Calderon for not addressing their needs, and Vazquez Mota on Monday named a special campaign coordinator to deal with family members of people killed or kidnapped by organized crime.
A campaign aide said the candidate would focus more on social media and grass-roots events to get closer to citizens.
“I recognize that it is time to redouble efforts,” Vazquez Mota said, adding the aim would be to convince undecided voters who make up almost 20 percent of the electorate. “We have lost time and been distracted by secondary issues.”
A poll published on Monday by the Parametria firm showed Vazquez Mota trailing Pena Nieto by 18 points, with the leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador - who narrowly lost the presidency to Calderon in 2006 - in third place just 7 points behind the PAN.
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Pena Nieto is likely to win the election by a wide margin, Carlos Ramirez from the Eurasia Group risk analysis firm wrote in a research note.
“For voters to start considering changing their current preference for the PRI, a major polarizing event would be needed to change the current lethargic mood of the electorate, something that is looking less and less likely by the day,” Ramirez wrote.
Logistical failures have dogged Vazquez Mota on the campaign trail. A small protest of laid-off airline workers forced her to cancel one event last week. At a large rally last month, supporters, upset by the candidate’s late arrival, streamed out before she even got up to speak.
Vazquez Mota also fired one of her communications staff after a flurry of Twitter users mocked a campaign schedule that misspelled the name of the central state of Tlaxcala, near the state of Puebla where Vazquez Mota was born.
“Josefina writes Tlazcala and she was the Minister of Education, just imagine it!” said one commentator on the micro-blogging site.
PAN Chairman Gustavo Madero has said the media are unfairly training a microscope on every detail of the campaign, amplifying minor issues instead of the candidate’s proposals for Mexico.
Additional reporting by Adriana Barrera and Martha Alicia Villela; Editing by Peter Cooney