Margarita Zavala, an independent Mexican presidential candidate and former first lady, said Wednesday that she was dropping out of the July 1 presidential race.
A former congresswoman with the center-right National Action Party, Zavala broke with that party in October after a public spat with its chairman, Ricardo Anaya, who went on to claim the party's nomination.
As an independent candidate, Zavala struggled to attract widespread support, in part because of the unpopular national security policies of her husband, Felipe Calderon, who served as president from 2006 to 2012. Calderon's decision to send tens of thousands of soldiers into the streets to fight powerful drug cartels has been blamed for fueling Mexico's ongoing violence, which last year claimed a record-breaking 29,159 homicide victims.
In a May 2 poll conducted by the Reforma newspaper, just 3% of respondents supported Zavala, far fewer than the 48% who said they would vote for front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador of the leftist National Regeneration Movement.
Anaya was in second place in the poll with 30%, Jose Antonio Meade of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party was third with 17%, and independent candidate Jaime "El Bronco" Rodriguez was fifth with 2%.
In a television interview announcing her withdrawal, Zavala said she wanted to free her supporters to "make the decision they need to make in this difficult race."
Zavala's exit fueled widespread speculation that she might endorse Anaya, who, despite their bad blood, is the candidate with whom she is ideologically most aligned.
But a member of Zavala's campaign said Wednesday that was unlikely. "She's not throwing her support behind any candidate," said the campaign member, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak to the media.
Whether or not she actually endorses Anaya, Zavala's departure from the race could help him gain slightly on Lopez Obrador, political analysts said. Investors seem to think so: The peso jumped Wednesday on their hope that Zavala's decision would help Anaya or Meade, both of whom, like Zavala, support several recent market-driven changes to Mexico's economy that Lopez Obrador has threatened to roll back.
But Carlos Bravo Regidor, a professor at CIDE, a public research center in Mexico City, said Zavala's dropping out wouldn't do much to bolster the candidacies of others.
"I don't think it will render Anaya much more competitive," Bravo said. "What Anaya needs is to grow, but also for Lopez Obrador to fall, and so far he's not falling.
"When you're that much behind, 3% more of the vote doesn't really cut it," Bravo said.
Zavala's exit comes several days before the second of three televised debates among the candidates. Sunday's event will be held in Tijuana, a city beset by rising violent crime, and where it was likely, analysts said, that Zavala would have faced tough questions about her husband's drug war strategy.
Along with electing a new president, Mexican voters in a month and a half will also choose 500 members of the Chamber of Deputies and 128 members of the Senate, as well as a slew of local representatives.
2:30 p.m.: This article was updated with background information and comments from Carlos Bravo Regidor.