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Voters Split in Mexico Elections

July 6, 1998

CHIHUAHUA, Mexico (AP) _ Voters were closely split in elections for governor Sunday in northern Mexico, according to exit polls. The races were seen as crucial tests of party strategy and strength for presidential elections in two years.

In Chihuahua state, which borders Texas, the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, tried a new strategy to recapture the governor’s seat from the National Action Party and launch a strong comeback after unprecedented election defeats.

The PRI abandoned the tradition of party leaders choosing candidates and held a primary election in the state in March that was open to all voters.

The winner, former Chihuahua Mayor Patricio Martinez, was in an extremely tight race with Ramon Galindo of the center-right National Action Party, according to an exit poll.

The poll by Azteca television network showed Martinez with 48 percent to 44 for Galindo. But a 5 percent margin of error made the difference statistically insignificant.

If Martinez wins, it will be the first time the PRI has recaptured a lost governorship, and its only chance to do so before the presidential elections in 2000. A PRI victory would also give strength to those within the party who favor a national primary to choose a candidate for president.

Conversely, a National Action victory would increase that party’s momentum for upcoming presidential and gubernatorial races.

While scattered early returns were expected late Sunday night, Mexico’s complex vote-counting mechanism means definitive counts were unlikely until Monday.

Also Sunday, in the historic mining center of Zacatecas state, the PRI was facing a potentially embarrassing defeat.

The Azteca exit poll showed the Democratic Revolution candidate Ricardo Monreal leading with 45 percent of voter preferences, followed by the PRI’s Jose Olvera Acevedo at 38 percent.

Monreal bolted from PRI after officials passed him over for the gubernatorial nomination.

Although the leftist party had been a minor force in Zacatecas, as throughout northern Mexico, a win by Monreal would be the Democratic Revolution’s first state-level victory since it won the mayor’s seat in Mexico City last year.

The PRI was expected to hang on to the governorship of Durango state, which borders both Zacatecas and Chihuahua, according to an Azteca exit poll, which gave the PRI 39 percent to 29 percent for National Action.

Election officials said voter turnout in Chihuahua and Zacatecas was high, but didn’t provide percentages of registered voters who cast ballots. They said the turnout was lower in Durango.

The PRI has held power in Mexico since 1929, but its grip is slipping. Six state governorships, including the seat in Chihuahua, have been won by National Action over the past decade.

Seven other governorships will be contested this year _ all are now held by PRI.

Last year, the PRI lost its majority in the lower house of Congress and was thrashed in the Mexico City mayor’s race. PRI governorships will be at risk in nine states before the presidential election.

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