LIANE HANSEN, host:
Colombians vote today for a new president, and the candidates couldn't be more different. One is a brainy, eccentric mathematician, the other a former defense minister. The election is important to the United States, which has spent billions helping Colombia fight Marxist rebels and drug traffickers.
NPR's Juan Forero reports from Bogota, Colombia.
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JUAN FORERO: The message in a campaign song is simple: A vote for me is a vote for Uribe - as in Alvaro Uriba, Colombia's president, who is immensely popular for weakening guerillas with his hard-line democratic security policies. And former defense minister Juan Manuel Santos wants Colombians to see him as Uribe's natural heir.
Mr. JUAN MANUEL SANTOS (Former Defense Minister, Colombia): What we said and we are saying is, not one step backward in terms of democratic security. What does that mean? That we cannot lower our guard.
FORERO: Increasingly, though, supporters have flocked to Antanas Mockus, a son of Lithuanian immigrants who's not known for his positions on security or fighting drugs.
Mr. ANTANAS MOCKUS (Presidential Candidate, Colombia): (Speaking Spanish)
FORERO: His fans scream out when he asks how many came to a recent rally because they heard about it on Facebook. He, in fact, has nearly 700,000 followers on the social networking site.
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FORERO: A former Bogota mayor, Mockus has energized young people by promising clean government and a renewed effort to fight poverty and increase public education. The message has resonated with people like Aviela Jimenez(ph).
Ms. AVIELA JIMENEZ: (Speaking Spanish)
FORERO: She calls Mockus decent, honest. And she says she'll vote for him, the first time she would vote in a presidential election. Mockus says the time is ripe for change. That while people may still worry about the FARC rebel group, they want government to deliver on other fronts.
Mr. MOCKUS: Now people want to imagine a Colombia and to live in a Colombia post-Uribe, a Colombia post the war with FARC, post the war with narco terrorism.
FORERO: Polls have shown that Mockus has the momentum. He rose from single digit support just weeks ago to tie and even pass Santos in some polls. The two candidates are well ahead of four other hopefuls but neither is expected to receive the 50 percent needed to avoid a runoff on June 20th. Security, though, still matters a lot to many Colombians, an issue brought home in recent days when rebel forces ambushed and killed nine highly trained troops in southern Colombia.
Libardo Dorado(ph), a civil engineer, is among those worried.
Mr. LIBARDO DORADO (Civil Engineer): (Speaking Spanish)
FORERO: He says it's Santos who's promised to carry on with Uribe's policies. And it's Santos who will get his vote.
Juan Forero, NPR News, Bogota, Colombia.
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