‘El Bronco’ rides Mexican discontent into election

vote“El Bronco” curses at campaign rallies, wears cowboy hats while riding horses and vows to clean up Mexico’s corruption-plagued political system if he becomes the first independent to be elected governor.

The blunt-talking Jaime Rodriguez Calderon, a former mayor and rancher, could make history when Mexicans vote in midterm elections across the country on Sunday.

Running for governor in the industrial northern state of Nuevo Leon, Rodriguez is riding a wave of discontent with the traditional parties thanks to a 2014 reform allowing independent candidacies for the first time.

“I want to be governor to change the system of government,” the 57-year-old candidate said during a debate, using slang to say people were fed up with politicians.

“Nuevo Leon isn’t bad. What’s bad is its corrupt leaders,” he said.

His candidacy has been one of the highlights of an election for all 500 seats in the lower chamber of Congress, hundreds of mayorships and nine governorships.

While polls show President Enrique Pena Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) keeping its congressional majority despite political scandals and protests by teachers angry at his education reform, Rodriguez could provide the biggest shock on election day.

Claiming that he has spent much less than the $3 million campaign spending cap for independent candidates, Rodriguez has harnessed the power of social media to spread his message through Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

A video shows supporters handing him peso bills at a campaign rally.

He had 42 percent of support in an opinion poll published by Reforma newspaper this week, well ahead of PRI candidate Ivonne Alvarez with 29 percent and Felipe Cantu of the conservative National Action Party (PAN) with 24 percent.

– Quit old party –

While Rodriguez portrays himself as an alternative to the old guard, critics note that he was a PRI stalwart for three decades before quitting the party in September 2014.

“He wasn’t able to become a candidate within the PRI, so he sought an independent candidacy,” said Jose Antonio Crespo, political expert at the Economics Research and Teaching Center.

Rodriguez would also face a state legislature dominated by the PRI, forcing him to make alliances with his former party, Crespo said.

Nevertheless, Crespo said, a Rodriguez victory on Sunday would “reflect the unhappiness of Nuevo Leon’s people with the parties.”

Rodriguez says that he not only has shunned his party, he “puked” it out of his system.

He gained fame while mayor of Garcia, a suburb of the prosperous city of Monterrey, from 2009 to 2012, where he faced down the ultra-violent Zetas drug cartel.

Rodriguez says he survived two assassination attempts when he was mayor. His daughter was kidnapped when she was two years old and one of his sons died in mysterious circumstances.

His personal life crept into the campaign when his ex-wife told Milenio television that he had hit her while they were married, which he vehemently denied.

Rodriguez also verbally tussled with former president Felipe Calderon, a member of the conservative PAN, who compared El Bronco to late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

Calderon said such politicians end up creating “authoritarian governments.”

Rodriguez responded with his usual blunt, unfiltered talk, saying Calderon had probably been “drunk.”

Analysts say that El Bronco may not be finished after Sunday and prepare a serious independent run for the presidency in 2018.

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