By David Graham

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico holds state elections on Sunday that appear poised to boost President Andrés Manuel López Obrador ahead of the race to succeed him, with his party expected to capture the last major stronghold of the country’s former rulers.

The president’s leftist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) is expected to add the governorship of the State of Mexico to the 21 regional governments it already controls, two-thirds of the total.

The country’s most populous region, the State of Mexico surrounds much of the capital, and has been a major economic and electoral stronghold for the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has ruled there since 1929.

López Obrador defeated the PRI to win the presidency in 2018, and MORENA has since absorbed most of the once-dominant party’s strongholds, as well as many of its politicians.

Decades of one-party rule have made the PRI synonymous with corruption among many Mexicans, and it has struggled to compete with MORENA’s message that it represents a vote for change.

A poll published this week by the newspaper Reforma showed the gubernatorial race has narrowed, but still gives MORENA candidate Delfina Gómez a 10-point lead over Alejandra del Moral, a PRI politician who leads an opposing alliance.

“People are leaning towards Delfina because it seems like a new beginning, like with López Obrador,” said José Hernández, a 64-year-old merchant in Los Reyes Acaquilpan, a town in the eastern part of the state of 17 million people.

“Because in the end, everything (the PRI) has been corrupt.”

Gomez vows to give the state a fresh start and improve security, given widespread concern about violence. Del Moral says that the PRI has learned from its mistakes and that his coalition will be a broader alternative to MORENA.

The vote comes a year before the next presidential election, and polls indicate that MORENA will also be very difficult to beat.

In a separate election on Sunday, the PRI is forecast to retain the northern border state of Coahuila, where divisions within MORENA produced rival left-wing candidates. MORENA sought this week to consolidate support in Coahuila by pressuring one of its national allies to abandon the renegade contender.


López Obrador has dominated political life since he took office in December 2018, and his popularity, holding steady at around 60%, has helped make MORENA a formidable electoral machine. Under Mexican law, presidents can only serve a six-year term.

Yet his abrasive style and hardline agenda, which has pitted the state against private business and fueled conflict with restrictions on that power, such as the judiciary, has also polarized voters.

López Obrador has frequently criticized some sectors of middle-class voters, and Mexico City and the State of Mexico in 2021 gave MORENA unexpected setbacks in local elections.

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum has held a slight lead in most polls for the race as MORENA’s presidential candidate, heavily lobbied by Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.

Sheinbaum, like Gómez, the MORENA candidate for the State of Mexico, is closely identified with López Obrador and his agenda.

Some analysts argue that the failure to capture the State of Mexico could help make the case for running a presidential candidate with more moderate credentials like Ebrard.

With a MORENA victory taken for granted for months, a surprise would give the opposition a powerful boost, said Roy Campos, head of polling firm Consulta Mitofsky.

“For MORENA to lose this status,” he said, “it would basically mean having a very bad start to the contest in 2024.”

(Reporting by Dave Graham; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

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