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PRI Defector Is Apparent Winner in Mexican State

Times Staff Writer

A popular ex-mayor who left the Institutional Revolutionary Party and joined President Vicente Fox’s party appeared Monday to have narrowly won the governor’s race in Tlaxcala state.

The disputed outcome in Tlaxcala was less a triumph for Fox, whose party lost three other state races Sunday, than the result of splits among his rivals. Hector Ortiz proclaimed victory as nearly complete returns gave him a 3,910-vote lead -- out of 279,311 cast -- over Mariano Gonzalez, state chairman of the PRI. Ortiz quit the party after losing its nomination.

The PRI, which held the presidency for 71 years until Fox’s election in 2000, was the overall winner in Sunday’s races. It retained the governorships in Tamaulipas and Puebla states by landslides, and in Sinaloa it bested Fox’s center-right National Action Party, or PAN, by 1 percentage point.

The PAN refused to concede defeat in Sinaloa, as did the PRI in Tlaxcala. Both races appeared headed for resolution in electoral courts.

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Tlaxcala was the only state certain to slip from an incumbent party’s grasp this year. It has been run for six years by the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, whose candidate made a futile bid to succeed her husband.

Sunday’s races were the latest test of strength among Mexico’s three major parties ahead of the 2006 presidential vote, in which Fox is barred from running.

The PRD is led by Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the front-runner in polls. Its candidates ran a distant third in Sunday’s four governor’s races and lost ground in legislative elections in Michoacan state.

Fox’s candidates have been on the defensive across Mexico as his reform agenda has stalled in the opposition-dominated Congress. The PRI has won 11 of the 16 governor’s races held this year and last and controls the executive branch in 17 of the 32 states.

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But the close outcome in Sinaloa shows that the PRI faces stiffer competition in some of its traditional strongholds. PRI victories in Veracruz and Oaxaca this summer were equally tight and are still being disputed in court.

Even so, the PRI senses the momentum. On Monday, seven PRI governors and the Senate leader demanded clearer rules for the nomination of their party’s 2006 presidential candidate. The initiative was aimed at preventing party Chairman Roberto Madrazo, the leading contender, from building on the recent victories to engineer his own nomination.


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