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Mexico's presidential debate: Candidates faced easy questions as protesters filled streets

Candidates largely avoided attacking front-runner Enrique Peña Nieto in last night's final presidential debate, but the tens of thousands of students protesting his party beforehand did not.

By Staff writer / June 11, 2012

Mexican presidential candidates take part in their second televised debate in Guadalajara, Mexico in this June 10 handout released by the Instituto Federal Electoral (IFE). Participating in the debate are (L to R) Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, Gabriel Cuadri, Enrique Pena Nieto, and Josefina Vazquez Mota.

Instituto Federal Electoral/REUTERS

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Mexico City

Back in May, during the first debate ahead of Mexico's July 1 presidential election, the clear frontrunner took the brunt of the attacks.

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Europe Bureau Chief

Sara Miller Llana moved to Paris in April 2013 to become the Monitor's Europe Bureau Chief. Previously she was the paper's Latin America Bureau Chief, based in Mexico City, from 2006 to 2013.

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During Sunday night's second and final presidential debate, Enrique Peña Nieto of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), who has been ahead in the polls since the race began, didn't have to dodge a lot of bullets. He wasn't attacked any more than the three other candidates.

In fact, his top rival, leftist Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, known as AMLO, barely criticized Mr. Peña Nieto, or anyone else. Meanwhile his rival on the right, Josefina Vazquez Mota, spent her time attacking everyone equally, including the candidate on the fringes of the race, Gabriel Quadri, who has only about 2 percent of votes.

It was almost as if the debate's goal was not about trying to knock Peña Nieto from the top, but secure the second place slot. And so it is likely that Sunday night alone will do little to steer supporters away from Peña Nieto, point undecided voters in a clear direction, or shuffle up the statistics in any significant way. "A statistical tie," analysts declared during after-debate television programs.

RELATED: Presidential candidate profiles on Enrique Peña Nieto, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, and Josefina Vazquez Mota.

The main criticism that Peña Nieto has had to contend with throughout the race is his party's past, as the authoritarian party that ruled Mexico for 71 years before finally getting edged out by Ms. Vazquez Mota's National Action Party (PAN). The theme surfaced again Sunday night – broached particularly by Vazquez Mota.

Peña Nieto has faced a dip in polling numbers as of late, but that's not directly due to maneuvers by the candidates. It's been because of outside factors, most notably a student movement that gained ground exactly a month ago today, opposing the comeback of the PRI.

As Peña Nieto's polling numbers have gone down since students took to the streets – those of Lopez Obrador's have gone up. Lopez Obrador almost won the presidential race in 2006 (he lost to President Felipe Calderon of the PAN, who is constitutionally barred from running again), and his biggest handicap has been his radicalization after losing that race. He refused to recognize the results and named himself the legitimate president of the country. He has also been painted as a “danger” to Mexico. Ahead of the 2006 race conservatives in the nation sought to paint him as Venezuela's radical Hugo Chavez.

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