Attack Ads Effective in Presidential Race; Calderon over Takes Lopez Obrador in Polls

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Byline: Ken Stier, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

A series of American-style media attack ads have knocked leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador off his stride, analysts say, and helped conservative Felipe Calderon to move ahead in Mexico's presidential race.

Some claim to see the hidden hand of U.S. political consultant Dick Morris, who claimed credit for helping President Vicente Fox to win in 2000 and visited Mexico earlier this year.

Mr. Lopez Obador, a leftist sometimes compared to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, had led the race for the July 2 election since the fall, sometimes by double-digit margins. But Mr. Calderon, candidate of President Vicente Fox's governing National Action Party (PAN), has surged ahead in recent polls with leads of between two and seven points.

Close observers of the race give much of the credit for the reversal to a series of television and radio ads by the Calderon campaign that have saturated Mexican airwaves.

One particularly effective ad alternates images of Venezuela's Mr. Chavez criticizing the popular Mexican president and shots of Mr. Lopez Obrador calling Mr. Fox a "chachalaca" a screeching, turkeylike bird and telling him to shut up.

The ad "showed [Mr. Lopez Obrador's] true personality, that he is very aggressive, authoritarian and not very respectful," said Luis Rubio, who leads the Centro de Investigacion para el Desarrollo, a Mexican think tank.

George Grayson, a Mexican scholar and government professor at the College of William & Mary, agreed, saying that Mr. Fox "may not be the sharpest knife in the drawer, but the people like him." Mr. Fox, whose victory in 2000 broke a 71-year stranglehold on power by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), currently enjoys a 63 percent job-approval rating.

Mr. Calderon's ads also introduced an element of fear into the campaign by associating Mr. Lopez Obrador with Mr. Chavez, who is widely regarded as a loose cannon, said Daniel Lund, who runs MUND Americas, a Mexico City public opinion research firm.

"It's that free-floating anxiety about hurting a fragile economy and a fragile polity," he said. …