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What to know about the 2 candidates running for Mexico's presidency

SCOTT DETROW, HOST:

Here in the United States, we're looking ahead to Super Tuesday. But there's another big election happening south of the border. In Mexico, the campaign for president has now officially begun. Millions of Mexicans will go to the polls this June. NPR's Eyder Peralta is in Mexico City, and he joins us now. Hey, Eyder.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Scott.

DETROW: So you've been out covering the campaign. What have you been seeing?

PERALTA: Massive rallies for both the main candidates. Yesterday I was at the first official rally for Claudia Sheinbaum, who is leading in the polls. And the Zocalo, which is this huge square in the middle of Mexico City, was just overflowing with people. And I want to play for you a chant that we've heard in both of the campaigns and tells you an important part of this story. Let's listen.

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Chanting in non-English language).

PERALTA: And Spanish is a gendered language. A male president would be a president. A female president would be a presidenta. And both of the two major candidates in this race are women. And that means that barring some miraculous, unexpected rise of a third-party candidate, Mexico, which is a notoriously machista country, will have a woman president - (speaking Spanish) - for the first time in history.

DETROW: Wow.

PERALTA: On the streets, people are selling dolls of the candidates. Many of the women I've talked to say it's finally our time. It has finally come. And many of them are hopeful that someone who has had a similar experience to them might better understand their problems and might be able to fix them in a better way.

DETROW: All right, so this historic moment. But tell us a bit more about the candidates themselves.

PERALTA: So both of these women were not politicians until later in their lives. And both of them are engineers. Xochitl Galvez is leading the opposition coalition, and she has a rags-to-riches story. She was born in a little town. And as a girl, she would sell Jell-O at the local market. She came to Mexico City. She became a computer engineer. And she was pulled into politics by a former president who asked her to deal with Indigenous issues in Mexico. And on the other side, you have Claudia Sheinbaum. Her Jewish grandparents fled Bulgaria and Lithuania during World War II. They came to Mexico to seek refuge. She was born here. And she became a renowned environmental engineer. She was pulled into politics by Mexico's current president. And she became the mayor of Mexico City. And now, if you look at the polls, she's the one to beat. Most polls give her a huge lead, some by as much as 20 points.

DETROW: And what are they both focusing on? I mean, there are a lot of global trends in politics right now. I'm guessing a lot of the things you're hearing and voters in Mexico are hearing are similar to what Americans are hearing from candidates right now.

PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, they're talking about security and about the economy. Xochitl Galvez, for example, opened her campaign at midnight in Fresnillo, Zacatecas, which is a small town that has been terrorized by cartel violence. And that violence is a big deal here. There's been a spate of assassinations of local officials and candidates. And the deaths from the cartel violence just don't seem to stop. So the theme of the Xochitl Galvez campaign is a Mexico without fear. Galvez promised to build a massive new prison, saying, quote, "there will be no more hugs for criminals. The law will be the law."

Claudia Sheinbaum, on the other hand, focused a lot on the social programs that have made the current president incredibly popular. She promised universal pre-kindergarten. She promised more college scholarships. She promised that her government would continue raising the minimum wage. And she focused on the poor. She used the same refrain that President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has used during now, what is his five-plus years in power. For the good of the country, the poor come first. Now both candidates are crisscrossing the country, and Election Day is June the 2.

DETROW: Eydera Peralta reporting for us from Mexico City. Thanks so much.

PERALTA: Thank you, Scott. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.

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