Presidential hopefuls Xochitl Galvez and Claudia Sheinbaum.

(L-R) Presidential hopefuls Xochitl Galvez and Claudia Sheinbaum. (AP)

Update: Xóchitl Gálvez and Claudia Sheinbaum to Compete for Mexico’s Presidency 

By Carin Zissis

The country’s two main political alliances have selected their aspirants. What have been the surprises, similarities, and questions so far?

For many, the results were a foregone conclusion. Over the past three months, Mexico’s two main political alliances held processes to select their presidential aspirants, and Xóchitl Gálvez and Claudia Sheinbaum—the frontrunners in each case—were named to compete in the country’s June 2024 elections. 

Gálvez, a senator for the conservative National Action Party (PAN), is arguably the more revelatory candidate of the two. Up until a few months ago, most thought she would throw her hat in the ring to be mayor of Mexico City, but then her public sparring with President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, or AMLO, launched the self-made businesswoman into the national spotlight. She quickly rose in the polls after a June decision to compete for the candidacy of the Frente Amplio de México candidacy, an alliance of the PAN with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD). In the Frente’s final internal poll, Gálvez earned 58 percent compared with 42 percent for the PRI’s Beatriz Paredes. The alliance’s process, which saw most contenders drop out before polling was completed, concluded on September 3 with a celebration of Gálvez’s nomination at the Angel of Independence monument in the capital. 

Meanwhile, Sheinbaum has long been seen as a favorite to be the ruling Morena party’s candidate for much of AMLO’s presidency, with the hashtag #EsClaudia (“It’s Claudia”) resonating like a prophecy foretold. On September 6, Morena and allied parties announced the former Mexico City mayor would be the party’s aspirant after winning in each of the coalition’s five surveys; Sheinbaum earned an average of 39 percent compared with 26 percent for former Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard

Both alliances accused each other of holding selection processes designed to green-light preselected candidates. But that doesn’t mean there weren’t surprises. Here’s a quick look at the overlaps, the unexpected events, and what to look for next in this electoral cycle, which concludes with a June 2, 2024 general election.

The parallels

Aside from the fact that this will be the first time Mexico’s two main presidential candidates will be women, Gálvez and Sheinbaum both have STEM backgrounds. Gálvez, 60, studied computer engineering and started two tech firms. Sheinbaum, 61, holds a PhD in engineering and was part of a UN environmental team that earned a Nobel Peace Prize. Both held their first positions in public office after Mexico’s democratic transition in 2000; that year Gálvez joined the Fox administration lead the National Institute of Indigenous Peoples, while Sheinbaum became the environment minister for the capital during AMLO’s term as Mexico City mayor. 

The surprises

Both women saw their announcements of their victories overshadowed by news and rumors surrounding the runners-up in each alliance’s competition. 

In the Frente’s internal competition, Paredes, a senator, proved to be an unexpectedly strong candidate. Not only did she outperform other rivals in the Frente’s internal polls, but other polling indicated she could be nearly as competitive as Gálvez against Sheinbaum in a 2024 election. As such, it was a surprise when, in the final days of the Frente’s process, Paredes’ party announced it would back Gálvez, marking the first time the PRI, which governed the country continuously for seven decades up until 2000, backed a candidate from another party. Paredes was absent from the press conference announcing the PRI’s endorsement, though she went on to recognize the Frente’s poll results and publicly appear with Gálvez in a show of unity

Sheinbaum’s September 6 nomination was also upstaged by a party rupture. Hours before results were announced, Ebrard contended that there had been irregularities in Morena’s poll process and that members of his team had been prevented from observing the count. In protest, he announced he would not attend Morena’s press conference to announce the winner, calling party leadership “cowards” and comparing his party’s practices to those of the PRI, which has historically been accused of a move known as the dedazo in which the president chose his political successor. 

The outstanding questions

In the near term, the biggest one is: What will Ebrard do?

The former Mexico City mayor had stepped aside in past electoral rounds to make way for AMLO to run, and his team is thought to have seen the 2024 competition as his turn. Shortly before his party announced Sheinbaum as its contender, he said he is not seeking a political consolation prize, meaning a senior-level role in the next government, and he said he would reveal his next steps on September 10. While his team says he will not leave Morena, there has been widespread speculation that he could become the candidate for the third-biggest political force, Movimiento Ciudadano, though polls indicate he would have a hard time competing with Sheinbaum and Gálvez in that situation

Looking ahead to the next nine months until the June vote, the question for Gálvez is whether she can close the gap with Sheinbaum, who is seen as—and polls as—the frontrunner by double digits. To do so, her team will need to work on name recognition; an August Reforma poll found that 47 percent of respondents don’t know who Gálvez is. Meanwhile, Sheinbaum not only has higher favorables, but Morena is the strongest political force in the country, holding two-thirds of the gubernatorial seats in the country, as well as the majority of state legislatures.

For Sheinbaum, meanwhile, the biggest question is what role AMLO would play should she win. As the presidential aspirant, she is charged with continuing his movement known as the Fourth Transformation in Mexico and much of the support she will draw comes from the popular president’s dedicated base. Can she maintain the high levels of dedication AMLO commands from his supporters? Will she be able to construct a distinct legacy should she win? Those question, like the others, remain unanswered.