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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Mary Louise Kelly.

For the first time ever in Mexico, a major political party has put forward a female candidate for president. The ruling party, the National Action Party, or PAN as it's known in Spanish, has picked Josefina Vazquez Mota as its representative in the July 1st presidential election. NPR's Jason Beaubien reports from Mexico City.

GUSTAVO MADERO: (Foreign language spoken)

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: At the National Action Party's convention earlier this month, Gustavo Madero, the head of the party, said that PAN has always been the party with the most female candidates. And this year, it will make history.

MADERO: Josefina Vazquez Mota (foreign language spoken).

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

BEAUBIEN: The PAN is running two women for two of the most important political races in Mexico: Josefina Vazquez Mota as the party's candidate for president and Isabel Miranda de Wallace for the mayor of Mexico City. Accepting the nomination, Vazquez Mota vowed she would become Mexico's first female head of state.

JOSEFINA VAZQUEZ MOTA: (Foreign language spoken)

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

KELLY: The 51-year-old Vazquez Mota is a trained economist, a devout Catholic and a mother of three girls. She jumped onto the national stage in the year 2000 when President Vicente Fox appointed her as the first female secretary of Social Development. Later, she served as education minister for President Felipe Calderon. Current polls show Vazquez Mota placed second in this race.

BEAUBIEN: The former governor of Mexico state, Enrique Pena Nieto, is leading in the polls. Pena Nieto is on the ballot for the Institutional Revolutionary Party or PRI. The PRI ruled Mexico for much of the 20th century in what was dubbed the perfect dictatorship. The political left this year is represented by Andres Manual Lopez Obrador, who narrowly lost the 2006 election to Calderon.

On the campaign trail, Vazquez Mota embraces that she's a woman and a mother without marketing herself as a candidate specifically for women. When her rival Pena Nieto said he didn't know the price of tortillas because he's not, quote, "the woman of the house," Vazquez Mota's pounced on the comment. She noted that she's raised children, kept the fridge stocked, and run the federal social services agency.

Jose Antonio Crespo, a political analyst here, says many people didn't think the PAN was ready to elect a woman as its lead candidate.

JOSE ANTONIO CRESPO: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: Because the PAN is a conservative party, Crespo says, people thought they wouldn't vote for a woman. But he says Vazquez Mota's candidacy shows that this isn't true. Machismo is still an issue in Mexico, and some surveys have shown that there are some Mexicans who'd never vote for a female leader. But Crespo says this is a relatively small part of the electorate.

The bigger problem for Vazquez Mota, he says, is that she's attached to the current ruling party, and her policies follow in the footsteps of the last two PAN presidents. She's pledged to continue Calderon's deadly offensive against the Mexican drug cartels. She also says rooting out corruption and government impunity would be top priorities in her administration. But over the last 12 years, the PAN has repeatedly said that it's the party to deal with drug violence, unemployment and corruption.

CRESPO: (Foreign language spoken)

BEAUBIEN: The last two governments have been PAN, and Crespo says the perception is they haven't accomplished anything. He says Vazquez Mota's biggest challenge isn't getting Mexicans to vote for a woman, it's getting Mexicans to believe she can solve the huge problems facing the country. Jason Beaubien, NPR News, Mexico City.

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