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Lopez Obrador Might Finally, Finally, Finally Become President ~ The L.A. Taco Guide to Mexico’s Presidential Election

[dropcap size=big]I[/dropcap] was in Mexico just a few weeks ago and confirmed a suspicion about this coming Sunday’s presidential election. The mood of the country, as it relates to election front-runner Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, lies somewhere between resignation and exhaustion.

On Lopez Obrador's third attempt at winning the presidency of Mexico, all polls show the populist-socialist-leftist-etc career politician will finally get it on July 1. The reasons why were evident once more last night. On Wednesday evening, Lopez Obrador closed his campaign with a massive rally at the Estadio Azteca in Mexico City. The five-hour-long event live-streamed on YouTube and topped 1 million views by midnight. There were dancers, singers, a pop star.

A stated attendance of more than 80,000 people waited up to four hours to hear Lopez Obrador give a speech, which lasted an hour more and repeated the same things he's been saying for more than 15 years.

With so much going on in politics in the United States right now, why should you care? Because this man is about to become the leader of the source of a majority of immigrants to the U.S. (hint: next-door neighbor Mexico), the second largest economy in Latin America, and the second- or third-largest trading partner for the United States.

If you've been waiting to get to know him, now's the time to tune in ...

Recording artist Belinda performed before AMLO's speech.
Recording artist Belinda performed before AMLO's speech.

AMLO, as the folksy rabble-rouser is known, is 64 years old, although he can seem older. He practices the old-school style of populist politics: barn-stormin’ in town after town — all year long — and railing against the “mafia of power” that he says keeps the downtrodden down.

Closing his campaign, Lopez Obrador was accompanied by his wife Beatriz Gutierrez Müller, a historian and Mexico's likely next first lady, although she's already rejected the use of the term. The stirring finish to years of campaigning for the leftist leader caps a race for the office that showed no major revelations or turning points. Everyone knows everyone's dirty laundry at this point, and that's partly what doomed the candidacies of Jose Antonio Meade (for the PRI) and Ricardo Anaya (for the PAN/PRD unholy alliance).

Currently, Lopez Obrador is polling at 37 percent in the latest Mitofsky numbers. Others show him much higher. Anaya, his closest rival, is at about 20 points, and Meade, the standard-bearer for the current government, is at 17, Reuters reported.

Last polls before Election Day coming out in #Mexico. A @Reforma poll on the left; @Parametria poll middle (with & without the "will vote for none/not declaring/undecided") and right (regardless of whether you'll vote or not and who you prefer, who do you think will win?)

— Arturo Sarukhan (@Arturo_Sarukhan) June 27, 2018

It's more or less been like this throughout the campaign, no matter what Anaya or Meade do.

More than a 100 candidates or operatives at the local or regional level have been killed in this election, coinciding with the most violent year in Mexican history. The lack of rule of law and brutal violence that exploded under former President Felipe Calderon and somehow managed to grow under current President Enrique Peña Nieto is a huge stain on all politicians in Mexico.

AMLO, coming from way outside at this point, promises to clean up house, but has been vague on how exactly he'd do it. Apparently that's good enough. Everyone knows someone who's been affected. Maybe these ads also helped ...

But if inside the stadium on Wednesday, crowds lapped up Lopez Obrador's almost millenary vision of his role in Mexican politics — invoking the names of the historical dissidents who stood up to the PRI across generations, like armed revolutionary leader Ruben Jaramillo, and the student protesters who were killed by the government in 1968 — outside, it is another story.

The vibe in Mexico, as far as I can tell, is basically: Give the old man a shot at governing already.

RELATEDJohn Oliver Destroys Mexico's Candidates on 'Last Week Tonight'

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]MLO is also known on the streets by his nickname “El Peje,” for pejelagarto, a fish from his home-state of Tabasco. Voters under 40 years old have practically grown up with him, which is remarkable considering that he hasn’t held any elected public office since 2005.

Reporters probably lost count a while ago of how many stories they’ve written about the guy being on the cusp of the presidency. Ever since his first attempt at Los Pinos in 2006, Lopez Obrador’s brash, take-to-the-streets tactics have turned a good half of the country passionately against him.

AMLO fatigue became a thing after the first run, when he lost by less than a percentage point in a highly contested official tally against Calderon, a conservative in a conservative party (PAN). Many still believe dark powers in Mexico or the United States stole the results that would have had AMLO winning; he and Calderon polled tightly but AMLO led the most. See the documentary Fraude.

AMLO's answer to the official loss was to “occupy” Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City and declare himself “Legitimate President.” Many people who are unable to stomach him to this day will never forgive him for it. Lopez Obrador’s response was exactly as his critics warned it would be, they argued: crazy.

El Peje then got into fights for control inside the leftist PRD, so AMLO — aware of how devout his base is — started his own party, Morena, his new presidential vehicle.

With Morena, Lopez Obrador started getting a bit Christian Evangelical in tone and manner, worrying a society with a fierce commitment to keeping politics secular. AMLO changed his discourse to one focused on themes of "love" and forgiveness. He references Jesus Christ. Gulp.

When he ran in 2012 against Peña Nieto and Josefina Vazquez Mota, AMLO was easy to tear down:

A 2012 attack ad against Lopez Obrador.

AMLO is a bit like Pepe Mujica and Bernie Sanders, in the stylistic sense. His crankiness has deepened. He hisses involuntarily when speaking, and grunts into long pauses between almost every clause.

He still lives in the same flat in an apartment tower in the southern Mexico City neighborhood of Copilco. He used to drive to the mayor’s office at the Zócalo in an old Nissan. He wears frumpy suits. He flies coach, and claims he’ll continue to do so if elected.

On flights during this year's campaign, this often happened:

In short, he’s a lot different from the people who’ve had power in Mexico since the NAFTA years started.

From the Calderon cabinet to the Peña Nieto cabinet, political leaders in Mexico in recent years tend to be over-educated, buttoned-up technocrats devoted to the Washington consensus and the status quo. Stuff is great for their allies and supporters — they go to private hospitals, private schools, on vacations. They invite their middle-class American friends to see the Mexico they know: spectacular homes, ranches in the countryside, sparkling resorts on Mexico's beaches.

Unfortunately, the current status quo also leaves a lot more Mexicans behind than the system can muster, but who cares, right? If there isn't enough work in Mexico for everyone, there is always work a-plenty in the U.S. ... Right?

Conservative Ricardo Anaya is way behind AMLO in the polls.

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]nd here we are again, a third round for the man who once seemed so "dangerous" to the United States, looking at a possible true landslide (see this poll-tracker). He might end up winning by a greater margin than any other candidate has since Mexico’s return to democracy.

You read right. Remember that?

Sunday’s election, when tens of millions will decide who runs the country from December 2018 to December 2024, will only be the fourth national vote since Mexico “transitioned to democracy,” with the fall of the PRI the first time around in 2000. In 2018, just three presidential terms later, Mexicans are dangerously fed up with democracy. More than 60 percent are “not satisfied” with the democratic institutions, according to a poll conducted in April by Reforma. Not trusting democratic institutions, of course, opens up a country's political climate to fire-breathing absolutists from both the left and right.

What Lopez Obrador actually does once in office is anyone’s guess. Will he be that neoliberal nightmare, a new Hugo Chavez? Venezuelans living in exile in Mexico or the United States have been warning us: "This is exactly how it started with Chavez ...," they say.

In past gestures, like the "legitimate government" and his promise to re-nationalize the oil industry, Lopez Obrador has often railed to the hard left at the podium but ends up being pulled back to the sensible center by his largely sane, coherent group of advisors. The financial press might keep pushing the line that markets are jittery and afraid of an AMLO presidency, but the truth is a lot more sober: the peso has been behaving fine and actually gained, Bloomberg reports, with AMLO's expected victory already "priced in."

His successful turn in 2018 is also thanks in many regards to the effervescence and wit of campaign manager Tatiana Clouthier; definitely follow her on Twitter, where she confidently engages the haters. And if you comprehend Spanish, watch this clip of Clouthier outwitting and shutting down a group of television hostess ladies who are hostile to her candidate.

It's rich.

A final thought: Donald Trump is as irrelevant to Mexicans these days as Mexico is to the United States on most. But more on that later ...

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