MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican presidential front-runner Enrique Pena Nieto is entering the last three weeks of the election race in a favorable position after navigating a second televised debate without major mishap, pollsters said on Monday.
Though Pena Nieto, the candidate of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) did not shine in Sunday night’s debate in Guadalajara, he suffered no setbacks likely to jeopardize his double-digit advantage in most polls, the experts said.
“Pena Nieto achieved his objectives of looking capable and not making any big mistakes,” said pollster Jorge Buendia.
Pena Nieto’s lead has narrowed over the past month after a surge of student-led protests over the prospect of a win on July 1 by the PRI, which acquired a reputation for corruption and authoritarianism during its 1929-2000 rule of Mexico.
Leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been the main beneficiary of the demonstrations and analysts had expected him to lay into Pena Nieto during the debate, playing to popular prejudices against the PRI and its slick 45-year-old candidate.
However, Lopez Obrador, a fiery orator who narrowly lost the 2006 election, was restrained in the debate, preferring mostly to plug policies instead of criticizing his adversaries.
“Lopez Obrador tried to get rid of the image of being intolerant and angry. However, perhaps he could have found more of a middle ground and confronted his rivals without sounding so angry,” said pollster Buendia.
This left the field open to Josefina Vazquez Mota of the ruling National Action Party (PAN) to mount most of the attacks.
Time and again Vazquez Mota tried to lump Lopez Obrador, who belonged to the PRI before he quit the party in the late 1980s, and Pena Nieto together as custodians of the old order.
“The one who beat expectations most was Josefina. We found a Josefina who was fresh and aggressive and this will make her followers proud to support her and she could start getting some votes back,” said Roy Campos at pollster Consulta Mitofsky.
A poll by firm BGC for Excelsior newspaper found last week that Pena Nieto had the support of 42 percent compared to 28 percent for both Lopez Obrador and Vazquez Mota.
But most recent polls have put Vazquez Mota in third place and she turned much of her fire on the leftist, leaving Pena Nieto to float above the fray unscathed for part of the contest.
“It was not a knock-out debate. I don’t see that it will have a significant impact on the election,” said Ricardo de la Pena, president of the polling firm GEA/ISA.
Editing by Christopher Wilson