Mexico 2012 Presidential Elections: Finance Minister Cordero may not Pursue PAN Nomination

Since our last update on the presidential aspirations of Finance Minister Ernesto Cordero, doubts have intensified regarding his potential resignation in anticipation of a bid for the PAN party presidential nomination in early 2012.

Though still the favored successor of President Calderon, Cordero’s competitive outlook is not promising at all. A Mitofsky poll published earlier this month gave Cordero only 2.9% of likely voters (If the presidential elections were held today, who would you vote for?), nearly 14 percentage points behind Senator Santiago Creel, and 11 percentage points behind Representative Josefina Vazquez Mota, the PAN’s current leading contenders. Education Minister Alonso Lujambio, placed third with 4.6%.

Last week aspiring PAN candidates and party leadership forged an agreement to reduce the preliminary list of candidates ahead of next year’s primary. Since then, both Labor Minister Javier Lozano and Social Development Minister Heriberto Felix, two hopefuls with low poll numbers, have bowed out. Cordero has so far refused to quit the race, but has, at the same time, drastically reduced the profile of his pre-campaign.

While this may be in reaction to the heavy criticism he received in June, we interpret Cordero’s retreat as a step back from his pre-campaign to reevaluate the viability of his candidacy.

No Charm …and No Tricks

Cordero’s poor ratings and inability to improve his position might be attributed to his lack of charisma and popular appeal. With seven months remaining before the primary, it is worth wondering what his team can possibly do to better position his candidacy. As things stand, the magic trick of narrowing such a wide gap seems beyond his reach.

Will Calderon Go to the Ropes for Cordero?

For the same reason, it is no longer clear whether Calderon will continue supporting Cordero’s candidacy—or recommend that he stay in his cabinet post. To recall, President Calderon’s attempts to influence the early stages of the internal race in favor of Cordero immediately led to protests by other hopefuls and have since become a polarizing factor within the party. Notably, Senator Santiago Creel and Representative Josefina Vazquez Mota have called for free, competitive elections within the PAN.

Though the candidates haven’t escalated the rhetoric, future attempts to manipulate the selection process could spark an open rebellion against Calderon—further impairing the PAN’s chances against the enormous threat of the PRI in next year’s election.

Timing

The timing of Cordero’s decision is also relevant. If he intends to compete in the primary, he is expected to either quit his post by early September, ahead of negotiations over the 2012 Federal Budget, or to renounce his aspirations altogether. After his attacks on the PRI this past June, party leaders have stated that negotiating with a politically active finance minister will greatly complicate the already difficult negotiations.

The Lujambio Factor

Recent statements from PAN chairman, Gustavo Madero, suggest that the party would like to see the number of contenders in the primary reduced to three. In such a scenario, and assuming that both Representative Vazquez Mota and Senator Creel will not bow out, Calderon may have to choose between support for Cordero or Lujambio.

Although Lujambio, too, lacks the media spotlight that comes with a high-ranking tenure in politics, his appeal still seems to trump Cordero’s. Should Lujambio continue advancing at the expense of Cordero, Calderon may in the end be forced to throw his support to Lujambio.

But even Lujambio will have a great deal of trouble against either Representative Vazquez Mota or Sen. Creel in a primary vote. Vazquez Mota in particular seems to continue consolidating ground. A recent poll by Gabinete de Comunicacion Estrategica (GCE) has confirmed Vazquez Mota has emerged as the preferred PAN candidate, over Sen. Santiago Creel and four other pre-candidates (Who do you think should be the PAN candidate?).  Vazquez Mota leads voter preferences with 29.9%, followed by Santiago Creel (22.6%), Alonso Lujambio (4.1%) and Ernesto Cordero (2.8%).