SUSAN STAMBERG, host:
Mexicans vote for a new president on Sunday. Polls indicate the candidate from the Left has a slight lead over the one from the Right. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro has the second in our series of profiles of the presidential contenders. She went to a huge weekend rally in support of conservative Felipe Calderon.
LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO reporting:
For a man who loves soccer, and has closely allied himself with the fortunes of the national team, Mexico's failure to get into the final round of the World Cup might seem a bad omen for a presidential hopeful who's in a tight race. But if Felipe Calderon was feeling worried, he wasn't showing it when he appeared before an estimated 100,000 people on Sunday.
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Unidentified women: Felipe Calderon has something of a reputation as a dull technocrat who lacks charisma. It's obviously something his campaign is trying to get rid of on this, the final day of his official campaign tour.
They've rented out a second stadium, which is where soccer matches are held in the capital. It's packed to the rafters, and the party-faithful are giving him a rock star reception.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: He's wearing a blue, formal blazer as he takes to the stage with his wife and three children. Calderon's speech is scripted. This is a man who likes to measure his words: a vast contrast with main rival from the left, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who loves to work the crowd.
The fight between Lopez Obrador and Calderon has been a bitter one. The Calderon team has used attack ads calling his leftist rival a danger to Mexico. On this day, Calderon sounds the theme again.
Mr. FELIPE CALDERON (Mexican presidential candidate): (Through translator) Our vision is for a Mexico with growth, with economic stability, and jobs. This is the option that Mexico needs, but facing it is another option - the option of debt, the option of inflation, the option of devaluation, the option of economic crisis. That is what Lopez Obrador represents.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Calderon's platform revolves around free market policies, a tough stand on crime, and scholarships for education. He's the favorite of the business community, and his critics say he's the candidate of the rich.
Lower middle class voters, though, are seen as very important in this election. On this final day, Calderon addresses them directly.
Mr. CALDERON: (Through translator) I am a man who dreams of an equal Mexico, that offers everyone opportunities for healthcare, for education, for housing. I, like you, dream of a generous Mexico, that supports its neediest family, so that they can live with dignity and leave poverty behind.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Felipe de Jesus Calderon was born on October 18th, 1962, in Morelia. His father was a founder of the National Action Party, or PAN, that came to power in 2000 with President Vicente Fox, breaking 71 years of one-party rule. Calderon trained as a lawyer in Mexico, and then went on to study public policy at Harvard. He became Energy Secretary, under Fox.
He had little name recognition when he sought the PAN nomination. Fox cannot run for reelection under Mexican law, and Calderon was not his choice as a successor. Calderon has tried to capitalize on that, calling himself the disobedient son, in order to distance himself from Fox, who some here view as a disappointment.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: Calderon supporters, carrying banners and balloons, were bussed in from all over the country to attend the Azteca Stadium event. For many, a vote for Calderon is a vote against the leftist candidate, Lopez Obrador, whom people in Mexico either love or hate.
Pedro Mehia(ph) is a shopkeeper who's come in from Hidalgo.
Mr. PEDRO MEHIA (Shopkeeper, Mexico): (Through translator) Calderon is going to give us the economic stability that this country needs, and the social peace that it needs. I'm afraid of Lopez Obrador, because he would return us to a period of social conflict here.
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GARCIA-NAVARRO: Others, though, see another opportunity for something new. Also outside the stadium is Jose Luis Rosas(ph), a 39-year-old street seller.
Mr. JOSE LUIS ROSAS (Street Seller, Mexico): (Through translator) We had 70 years of one party. Then we voted for Fox of the PAN and we saw that they were only helping big business and the rich. So now we have to vote for the left, and Lopez Obrador, because I think we need another change.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: It's an ironic legacy of the PAN success in making Mexico a real multi-party democracy.
Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Mexico City.
STAMBERG: Profiles of the presidential candidates plus key issues in the Mexican election are at npr.org.
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