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Mexico’s Ruling Party Woos Voters in the U.S.

Times Staff Writer

The 2006 Mexican presidential race’s first major north-of-the-border manifestation got off to a slow start on Saturday, as about 30 people attended a political platform forum in South Gate for the ruling National Action Party.

The party, known by its Spanish initials, PAN, held the forum to gauge voter concerns leading up to the first presidential election in which Mexicans living abroad, including millions in the United States, will be allowed to vote by mail.

Rallying support for PAN and the government of President Vicente Fox were Manuel Espino, the party’s national president; Juan Carlos Romero Hicks, governor of Guanajuato state; and Cecilia Romero, a senator from Mexico City.

The audience in South Gate High School’s auditorium consisted mostly of lower-level party operatives in the U.S., wearing shirts and ties of baby blue, PAN’s signature color.

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The low turnout did not diminish the event’s symbolic significance for the political leaders and the few immigrant voters who attended.

Paulino Hermosillo, a South Los Angeles food service worker, said he is looking forward to voting for president of his homeland for the first time in more than 20 years.

Hermosillo, a naturalized U.S. citizen and lifelong PAN member, attended the forum with his wife and young daughter. He said he is proud and excited to be able to vote in two countries.

“Most of us came here because of the corrupt politics of PRI,” said Hermosillo, 45, referring to the rival Institutional Revolutionary Party. “For us, this is a historic moment. I care about what happens in both places. I have made a family here.”

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But in Mexico, he added, “we’ve wanted a government to really care about us immigrants.”

The PAN forum was the only such event the party scheduled in the United States on Saturday. Five other forums were scheduled in Mexican cities.

“This is the start of a coming together that will be more real, more palpable with the Mexicans living in the United States, because in PAN we believe Mexico is a country that transcends its borders, and we feel a debt to the Mexicans who have come to the United States over the years,” said Romero, the senator.

As Mexico’s three major parties prepare to add a new and distant constituency to the political landscape, political leaders expect to keep a close eye on voter interest in the race in Southern California, home to one of the largest populations of Mexicans in the world.

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Experts estimate that between 3 million and 5 million Mexicans in the U.S. may vote in Mexico’s election next year.

Presidential hopefuls are barred from campaigning outside Mexico once they are declared their parties’ official candidates. But potential candidates are expected to make visits in the coming months to Los Angeles and other heavily Mexican cities in the U.S.

The center-right PAN hopes to retain control of Los Pinos, Mexico’s White House, after breaking more than 70 years of one-party rule under PRI in 2000.

PAN’s leading presidential contender, Santiago Creel, is trailing in polls behind likely candidates for the centrist PRI and the center-left Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD.

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For weeks this spring, news of Fox’s legal maneuvers to prevent popular Mexico City Mayor Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador from running for president dominated Spanish-language press reports in Southern California.

PAN was heavily criticized for attempting what some called an anti-democratic move to punish Lopez Obrador for defying a court order in 2001, which would have disqualified him from running for president.

The charges against Lopez Obrador, a PRD member, were eventually dropped, and he recently stepped down as mayor to campaign full time for president.

There was no talk of the controversy at the PAN forum Saturday. Instead, party leaders sought to remind their new constituents that the right to vote while living abroad was instituted during Fox’s presidency, after years of stalled debate on the issue under PRI rule.

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The PAN representatives told the audience Mexico has been making progress in economic growth, social welfare, human rights, democratic reforms and on environmental issues under their party’s watch.

“It would be easy to fall into the old model of empty populism that only popularizes poverty,” said Romero Hicks, governor of Guanajuato. Before, he added, “the Congress was practically running Los Pinos, and here I can say that.”


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