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She trails the ruling party’s candidate to be Mexican leader. Visiting her hometown helps show why

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TEPATEPEC, Mexico (AP) — She sold snacks in a small town in central Mexico as a girl and rose to national politics with a biography that could help take her to the heights of power, she hoped.

But polls are showing Xóchitl Gálvez trailing the ruling party’s candidate in the June 2 election. A recent visit to the streets of her hometown showed why, and revealed something about the priorities of today’s Mexican voters.

People in Tepatepec are less interested in Gálvez’s life story than their own difficult lives. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Morena party has been able to ease those lives with social programs. And that’s helped his protégé Claudia Sheinbaum.

When Gálvez entered the presidential race, many of López Obrador’s adversaries felt that she embodied their hopes of taking power. She represents a coalition that includes the PRI, which governed Mexico for 71 years, and she began her campaign as a political phenomenon backed by the country’s business elites. But her popularity has been declining.

It’s gotten to the point where some residents of her own hometown of 20,000 people in central Mexico are questioning Gálvez’s own autobiography, which began in a modest adobe home here.

“It’s not true that she was poor,” said María del Socorro Mendoza, who was selling vegetables in a market. “Her father was a teacher and her family was one of the ones that lives well here.”

Relatives told The Associated Press that Gálvez’s father was alcoholic and spent his money on drink. His 8-year-old daughter Xóchitl had to sell tamales and other snacks in the street to help her family, remembered Tepatepec resident María de los Ángeles Acevedo, 64.

The likely next president of Mexico, Claudia Sheinbaum, is a globally recognized scientist born in the capital. Gálvez, 61, rebelled and left the town at 16 to study computer engineering in Mexico City and while Gálvez’s father Heladio had a job as a teacher, the family of seven struggled financially because he spent all his money on alcohol before dying of a terminal illness in 2003, said her cousin, Ramón Gálvez, 65.

“Sometimes we didn’t know if there would be enough to eat,” he said.

Their grandparents spoke Otomí, an Indigenous language native to the region around Tepatepec, Gálvez remembered, but the townspeople are still unconvinced by Gálvez, even today.

“She would have been bigger here if she’d done something for her hometown, but she hasn’t done anything,” said Juana Manzo, 55, who sells vegetables in a Tepatepec market. “She’s nothing here.”

Morena controls Mexico’s Congress and 22 of 32 states, a political machinery that appears, for the moment, invulnerable. López Obrador’s new social programs for people older than 65, youth and rural residents are a key part of his appeal, political analyst David Saucedo said.

That has percolated down to many residents of Tepatepec.

Gálvez sometimes uses the mild profanity common to everyday speech in Mexico, swear words so bland they’re not even considered profanity in everyday use. Manzo said that while Gálvez appeared to be attempting to appeal to Mexico’s working class, the way she has done so in a political arena has been unappealing.

“She speaks in a really crude way,” Manzo said as she sold vegetables. “It makes me ashamed as a woman, because it’s not the right way to speak.”

Manzo and other in Tepatepec also said they were worried about Mexico’s direction, and none of Gálvez’s proposals were appealing.

“The country’s in terrible shape,” Manzo said. “There’s more crime, more drug trafficking every day.”

Gálvez headed the National Commission for Indigenous Development under Vicente Fox, who was president of Mexico from 2000 to 2006 for the conservative National Action Party. Afterward, she headed the government of the Mexico City borough of Miguel Hidalgo between 2015 and 2018.

Gálvez formally entered the presidential race after López Obrador kept her out of his regular morning press conference in June. She wanted to respond to his false accusation that she wanted to eliminate national social programs.

He then started identifying her as a candidate of Mexican forces that he identified as conservative oligarchs. He accused her of using her modest background and common language as a way to fool the working classes.

An independent with progressive ideas, she supported the LGBT+ community and moved around the city by bike.

She was elected to Mexico’s Senate in 2018.

Political consultant Rubén Aguilar has known Gálvez since he was part of the Fox administration and said that her smarts and tenacity have helped her overcome extreme adversity.

“If you’re able to overcome the vicious cycle of extreme poverty, you’ve got something,” Aguilar said. But, he added, she now is facing a tough electoral enemy: the Morena political machine.

By FABIOLA SÁNCHEZ
Associated Press

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