Mexican Presidential Candidate Galvez Readies for a Must-Win Debate

(Bloomberg) -- Mexico’s opposition presidential candidate Xochitl Galvez is running out of opportunities to mount a serious challenge against President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s anointed successor, trailing by a wide margin in polling just five weeks before election day.

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On Sunday, in the second of three debates against frontrunner Claudia Sheinbaum, she’ll look to mount a comeback.

Galvez, a senator who has a gift for sharp-edged remarks about Lopez Obrador, garnered enough attention last year to win the backing of three of the four major opposition parties. But her support among voters has stagnated, in part due to her coalition’s disorganized strategy and her own fumbles. The second debate, with the June 2 vote rapidly approaching, is one of the final chances she has before a national audience to reset her image as a serious contender.

“She had an opportunity three weeks ago and she failed dramatically, so this is her last shot,” said Carlos Perez Ricart, an assistant professor in International Relations at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics. “She will have to use it very intelligently.”

Bloomberg’s Polling Tracker showed a 28-point gap between Galvez and Sheinbaum as of Friday, with 32% of voters saying they would support the opposition candidate. A third candidate, Jorge Alvarez Maynez, lags far behind.

Read More: Mexico Poll Tracker: Sheinbaum 60.5%; Galvez 32.3%

Sheinbaum came to the role with the firm endorsement of the president, which has helped her popularity. She’s less charismatic than her mentor and has worked to court sectors that might not generally support his leadership, telling business leaders about her energy transition plans and growth strategies in states that are less supportive of the current administration.

Speaking From The Heart

But the upcoming debate, scheduled for 8 p.m. in Mexico City, may play to Galvez’s strengths.

The candidates will be discussing economic growth, employment and inflation — topics that could give Galvez more room to pitch herself as the pro-business candidate. She has criticized Lopez Obrador for his handling of the energy sector and failures to improve security conditions.

A campaign staffer working for an aide to Galvez said preparations for the first debate were rigorous but focused too heavily on statistics for the candidate to recite. This time, the staffer added, she’ll need to speak from the heart, which is how she connects best with viewers.

It will be an opportunity, and at the same time a challenge, for Galvez to improve her strategy of pointed criticism that has shown signs of backfiring. She gained a following by dressing up as a dinosaur in the Senate to point out how backwards the ruling party’s ideas were and demanding the right to march into the president’s press conference for equal time. But commentators have pointed to Sheinbaum’s unflappable demeanor as more presidential. (Galvez called her “The Ice Queen” in the previous debate.)

Political analysts have also questioned whether Galvez has enough experience to develop a political strategy, while Sheinbaum has the gravitas of having led Mexico City as mayor.

Galvez, a businesswoman who has stressed her Indigenous and working-class background, struggled since early in the campaign to win the unequivocal support of the different parties that form the opposition coalition, whose players are the Revolutionary Institutional Party, known as the PRI, and the National Action Party, known as the PAN, plus the smaller PRD.

She has sought to depict herself as officially unaffiliated with any party, to ward off criticism of their performance when in power in the 2000s and early 2010s, prior to Lopez Obrador’s landslide election in 2018.

Read More: Mexico’s Maverick ‘Ms. X’ Adopts Pragmatism in Presidential Bid

She was never “the candidate that had the presence of a statesperson, and you can’t change that,” said Alejandro Schtulmann, the head of the analysis firm EMPRA. “She lacked the structure of a party. She’s had to be friendly with the people of the PRI, get together with people of the PRD, and even in the PAN they don’t love her a great deal.”

Yet one of Galvez’s top advisers, former Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo, said Galvez is the best candidate to attract foreign investment into Mexico.

In an event this week in Mexico City hosted by Bloomberg, Guajardo also provided a potential preview of Galvez’s line of attack during the debate. He told the market-savvy crowd that she is better equipped to address infraestructure shortcomings that may discourage companies seeking to relocate closer to the US market from choosing Mexico.

“We could have a mechanism to rescue, to invest in, what is the main bottleneck for development of industrial parks, which is the energy supply and infraestructure,” he said. Of Galvez, he added, “she’s a woman of pragmatic solutions. She does not have ideology that will prevent her from making the decisions that will most benefit Mexicans.”

--With assistance from Carolina Millan.

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