By Dave Graham and Alberto Fajardo
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) -The party of Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador was tipped to seize the last major bastion of the country’s old rulers after a state election on Sunday as the president seeks to pave the way for a successor next year.
With polling stations closing in the State of Mexico, Lopez Obrador’s leftist National Regeneration Movement (MORENA) is expected to add the governorship of the state to the 21 regional governments it already controls, two-thirds of the total.
The most populous region of the country, the State of Mexico surrounds much of the capital and has been an economic and electoral bulwark of the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has governed there since 1929.
Lopez Obrador routed the PRI to win the presidency in 2018, and MORENA has since absorbed most of the once-dominant party’s strongholds, alongside many of its politicians.
The voting comes a year before Mexico’s next presidential election, with polls indicating MORENA will be hard to beat.
Decades of one-party rule made the PRI a byword for corruption among many Mexicans, and it has struggled to compete with MORENA’s message that it represents a vote for change.
A poll published Wednesday by newspaper Reforma had shown the race narrowing, but still gave MORENA’s candidate Delfina Gomez a 10 percentage point lead over Alejandra del Moral, a PRI politician fronting an opposition alliance.
Jobita Pena, a 67-year-old homemaker in the municipality of Tlalnepantla on Mexico City’s northern edge, said she wanted MORENA to bring change to the state of 17 million people.
“For a better Mexico, for new projects, which really are delivered this time,” Pena said.
The local electoral authority is due to begin publishing results from 7 p.m. (0100 GMT).
Gomez is vowing to give a fresh start to the state and to improve security, mindful of widespread concern over violence. Del Moral has said the PRI learned from its mistakes and that her coalition would be a broader alternative to MORENA.
As she cast her ballot, del Moral told reporters the vote was historic because for the first time a woman would be elected to govern the state. “It’s a big moment,” the 39-year-old said.
Guillermo Fuentes, a 55-year-old PRI supporter and small business owner, said del Moral, not MORENA, was the one who would deliver change to the State of Mexico.
In a separate election on Sunday, the PRI is forecast to maintain the northern border state of Coahuila, where splits inside MORENA produced rival left-wing candidates.
Lopez Obrador has dominated political life since taking office in December 2018, and his popularity, holding firm around 60%, has helped make MORENA a formidable electoral machine. Under Mexican law, presidents may serve only one six-year term.
Nevertheless, his abrasive style and uncompromising agenda, which has pitted the state against private enterprise, and fueled conflict with curbs on that power such as the judiciary, have polarized voters. In 2021, MORENA suffered a backlash in and around the capital in local elections.
Mexico City’s mayor, Claudia Sheinbaum, has had a slight edge in most polling for the race to be MORENA’s presidential candidate, closely followed by Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard.
Sheinbaum, like Gomez, MORENA’s State of Mexico candidate, is closely identified with Lopez Obrador and his policies.
Failure to capture the State of Mexico, some analysts argue, could help make the case for putting up a presidential candidate with more moderate credentials such as Ebrard.
(Reporting by Dave Graham and Alberto Fajardo; Editing by Aurora Ellis, Will Dunham and Lisa Shumaker)
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