MEXICO CITY — Plans by Mexico's once-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) to score a comeback in next year's presidential elections stumbled Monday when vote-counting showed that its candidate had lost a key gubernatorial race.
PRI candidate Manuel Anorve won just 42.6 percent of the vote in the race for governor of Guerrero state, home to the violence-ridden Pacific resort of Acapulco. The winner in Sunday's balloting was Angel Aguirre, who headed a coalition of leftist parties and received 56 percent of the vote, election officials said.
The election was the first of six gubernatorial races this year that will gauge the mood of the electorate before presidential elections in 2012.
A leader of the coalition that includes Aguirre's Leftist Revolutionary Party said Aguirre's triumph showed that a PRI comeback wasn't guaranteed.
"The myth of the invincibility of the PRI has been shown to be just that," said Jesus Zambrano, coordinator of the leftist Guerrero Unites Us coalition.
The PRI governed Mexico for more than seven decades until it lost the presidential election in 2000. Its hopes for returning to power have been boosted by opinion polls showing citizens' dismay with rampant drug-related violence and joblessness under President Felipe Calderon, of the center-right National Action Party.
Voters next go to the polls on Sunday to elect a governor in Southern Baja California. Gubernatorial elections follow later in the year in Coahuila, Mexico state, Nayarit and Michoacan.
The Mexico state vote July 3 will be watched especially closely. The state of Mexico is adjacent to Mexico City and has been led by a PRI figure, Gov. Enrique Pena Nieto, who receives saturation coverage by the huge Televisa network that nearly ensures he'll become the PRI candidate for president in 2012.
"He's on cooking shows, sports shows, children's shows. He's all over that network," said George W. Grayson, a scholar of Mexican politics at the College of William & Mary in Virginia.
Even before his formal nomination as the PRI presidential candidate, Pena Nieto "is certainly the man to beat, and all the polls show it," he said. "He's got such a head of steam."
In a last-ditch move to halt the well-organized PRI, the leftist Revolutionary Democratic Party and Calderon's National Action Party (PAN) have set aside vastly differing ideologies to throw their lot together in several state elections, including Guerrero, where the PAN candidate dropped out days before Sunday's vote and urged his followers to vote for Aguirre.
A national leader of the PRI, Beatriz Paredes, decried such maneuvering, calling an alliance between the PAN and the left "an unnatural coalition" that resorts to "trickery" to beat the PRI.
While the PRI has lost the presidency in the last two national elections, it remains the largest force in Mexico's Congress, holding 237 of the 500 seats in the Chamber of Deputies. It also holds 19 of the 32 governorships in the country.
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McClatchy Newspapers 2010