MEXICO CITY — Voters in three states head to the polls today in contests viewed as curtain-raisers for Mexico's 2012 presidential election and a harbinger of the issues that will likely dominate the campaign, especially security concerns.
In all three elections for governor — in central Mexico state, Nayarit on the Pacific coast and Coahuila, bordering Texas — Mexico's former ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, is expected to win easily, analysts say, against the National Action Party, or PAN, and the Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD.
But the PRI's past will haunt some voters, analysts say. The PRI governed Mexico for 71 years before losing the presidency in 2000.
No race will be as closely watched as the one in Mexico state, whose outgoing governor, Enrique Pena Nieto of the PRI, is seen as the early front-runner to win the presidency next year.
In Mexico state, the popularity of Pena Nieto overrides everything else, pollster Jorge Buendia of Buendia y Laredo said. In a May poll by Buendia, 52 percent of respondents said they would vote for Pena Nieto for president if the elections were held that day. The next closest candidate had just 12 percent support.
Pena Nieto's likely successor, Eruviel Avila, has consistently led the polls, with his closest rival, Alejandro Encinas of the left-center PRD, trailing by more than 20 points. The candidate of President Felipe Calderon's PAN, Felipe Bravo Meno, trails in third place, according to polls.