Morena candidate Delfina Gómez in Nezahualcóyotl, State of Mexico. (AP)

State of Mexico's Election for Governor: Why It Matters

By Carin Zissis

One party has run Mexico’s most populous state for a century. That could end June 4. AS/COA Online covers the vote and its impact on the presidential race.

This article was initially published on May 30, 2023, and has since been updated to include news of an alleged embezzlement scandal involving the State of Mexico's current government.

“The PRI even lost in … Atlacomulco,” announced the front page of Mexican daily Reforma after the July 2018 elections that saw Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, and his Morena party win the presidency and decisive victories across the country. Atlacomulco, a town in the State of Mexico, has been considered a cradle of power for the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and is the namesake of a group of party elites, known as the Grupo Atlacomulco, which included ex-President Enrique Peña Nieto and several governors. Since 2018 it has been controlled by Morena.

But the power of the Grupo Altacomulco was not fully dimmed. One member of the group, current state Governor Alfredo del Mazo, defeated Delfina Gómez, the candidate from AMLO’s party, in a tight 2017 gubernatorial race, a year before Morena’s big national triumph. Gómez, though, still claims fraud

Now the PRI’s 94-year reign in State Mexico—the most populous of Mexico’s 32 states—may come to an end. On June 4, Gómez will try again to capture the governorship, and in a new political context: Morena has gone from running a handful of states to two-thirds of Mexico’s governorships. Gómez, who served as AMLO’s education minister and a senator in the interim, holds a double-digit poll lead against Alejandra del Moral. A PRI member, del Moral is a candidate of the Va Por México alliance made up of her own party, the National Action Party (PAN), the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), and Nueva Alianza. And the stakes are high; Mexican magazine Proceso went so far as to describe del Moral as “the protagonist in the survival or extinction of the PRI.” 

The border state of Coahuila is also electing a governor, but there, polls place the Va Por México candidate ahead. 

Still, State of Mexico—Estado de México in Spanish, or Edomex—is the gubernatorial crown jewel, and would give the winning party bragging rights a year out from 2024 general elections. 

How Edomex represents Mexico

About one in eight Mexicans lives in Edomex. Of those 17 million people (roughly the population of Guatemala), about 13 million are registered voters. As such, Edomex takes in the largest stake—14 percent—of the federal government’s spending on the states. It accounts for 9.1 percent of Mexico’s GDP, second only to neighboring Mexico City in contributing to the national economy. If it were a country, it would be the tenth-biggest economy in Latin America

But despite its economic and voter heft, Edomex is a microcosm of many of Mexico’s biggest challenges. About 37 percent of the state’s residents say they can’t cover basic costs, similar to 38.5 percent nationally. Some 55 percent of its workers are informally employed; the national average is 51 percent.

It's also afflicted by crime woes, and nearly 91 percent of its inhabitants feel their state is unsafe—the second-highest rate in Mexico. No other state has a higher rate of violent theft, and, in a country where more than 10 women are murdered each day, Edomex holds the tragic rank of being the state with the largest number of femicides

In light of these problems, three-quarters of Edomex residents say a new political party should take control

Two Mexicos in one election: about the candidates

If Edomex’s size, economy, and challenges represent Mexico, the gubernatorial race reflects state-level and national political divides

Gómez, 60, is the daughter of a construction worker and a housewife. Nicknamed “La Maestra” the former schoolteacher held roles in her state’s education ministry before becoming mayor of Texcoco, a town some contend is home to a new political group within Morena, who rival the PRI’s Grupo Atlacomulco Group. As a former member of AMLO’s cabinet, she benefits from the popular and populist president celebrating her as “an honest woman.” But while she names combatting corruption a top priority, she’s been at the center of more than one controversy; the electoral tribunal fined her for docking the pay of Texcoco city workers to raise funds for Morena. 

Voters may overlook such transgressions, particularly given that just days ahead of the election, a collaborative investigative report unveiled evidence that Edomex's PRI government—Del Moral included—were involved in a $300 embezzlement scandal. Among Edomex voters, a May 29 El Universal poll gave Gómez 59 percent support to Alejandra del Moral’s 41 percent. A mere 18 percent of the state’s respondents say the PRI should stay in power. 

With Morena eclipsing the PRI nationwide and poll numbers like these, it's no wonder that del Moral’s campaign has an air of an underdog opposition candidate rather than the member of the incumbent party. Though after the scandal broke in the final days before the election, Del Moral canceled a high-profile media appearance

The 39-year-old daughter-in-law of a former PRI governor, Del Moral studied at some of Mexico’s most prestigious universities and was motivated to enter politics at the age of 18 after she endured a six-day kidnapping. At 25, she became Mexico’s youngest mayor when she won in her hometown of Cuautitlán Izcalli. She went on to become a federal deputy and work in the Peña Nieto administration, though she has sought to distance herself from suggestions she is linked to Grupo Atlacomulco. 

The starting line

No matter who wins, this will be an election of firsts. With only two candidates competing, Edomex will have its first woman governor. If Gómez wins, Morena will govern the state for the first time. Even if del Moral wins, her victory would represent the first triumph of the Va Por México coalition in the state. 

The election will also set the stage for the 2024 presidential elections. If del Moral pulls off an upset, the Va Por México alliance could point to the victory as evidence of its viability to curtail Morena’s growing power and contend for the presidency. 

Regardless of the outcome, expect important political moves just after this election is over. While AMLO has been floating potential successor names for years, days after this Sunday’s vote, Morena’s party leader says he will bring together top candidates to plan for an internal survey that will determine the party candidate, to be announced later in the summer. Polls suggest Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum is the frontrunner with Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard in second. Morena’s internal process has been considered opaque and AMLO’s opinion can hold more sway than national polling. Still, many believe Sheinbaum is his preferred candidate. Morena leads polls against rival parties and coalitions.

Similarly, Va Por México is expected to define its process to pick a candidate after June 4, with at least one party leader suggesting the candidate could be selected by September

This article is the first in a series on Mexico’s upcoming election year. Check for ongoing coverage.