Mexican Presidential Hopeful Wins Support With Trump Stance
MEXICO CITY—Leftist presidential hopeful Andrés Manuel López Obrador is gaining momentum on the back of a nationalist backlash against the U.S. as President Donald Trump upends bilateral relations with Mexico.
The former Mexico City mayor, narrowly beaten in Mexico’s two previous presidential elections, is now widening his lead in opinion polls ahead of next year’s presidential race.
A poll recently conducted by El Financiero newspaper gave Mr. López Obrador, the founder and leader of Mexico´s National Regeneration Movement, 33% voter support, up 4 percentage points since November and 6 percentage points ahead of former first ladyMargarita Zavala, a leading presidential contender within the conservative National Action Party.
Starting on Sunday in Los Angeles, Mr. López Obrador, who hasn’t officially declared for the race, planned to convey his support for Mexicans in the U.S. during a four-day tour of half a dozen U.S. cities with large Mexican communities. There are an estimated 35 million people of Mexican descent in the U.S.
The visit comes as the new U.S. administration ramped up an immigration crackdown and launched deportation raids of undocumented immigrants in several U.S. cities over the past week. Mr. Trump also has shocked Mexicans with his insistence that Mexico will pay for a new border wall, and his attacks on U.S. companies that open factories in Mexico.
Thousands of protesters took to Mexico City’s central thoroughfare on Sunday to protest against the border-wall plan, while criticizing Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and the ruling PRI party.
Mr. Peña Nieto faces rising political pressure to defend Mexico’s national pride, even as both countries get ready to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement.
Mr. López Obrador’s visit to the U.S. appears to be designed to send a clear message: He will stand up to Mr. Trump, who he has called “arrogant and autocratic,” and branded his plans as “foreign aggression.”
At a rally in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday afternoon, Mr. López Obrador planned to blast Mr. Trump’s immigration policy and stress that Mexican migrants don’t steal U.S. jobs, his spokesman said.
Like Mr. Trump, the Mexican politician has cast himself as a political outsider challenging a corrupt and incompetent political “mafia.” Both men also share a mistrust of globalization, with Mr. López Obrador calling on Mexico to focus on its domestic economy rather than exports.
AMLO, as he is widely known, “speaks truth to the power and is close to the people,” saidSalvador Irigoyen, a 21-year-old university student.
The visceral personality of Mr. López Obrador has often been compared with that of Mr. Trump. “His weakest point is his intolerance and arrogance. Whoever doesn’t agree with him is his enemy. He is in the tradition of the Latin American strongman,” said Fernando Belaunzarán, a lawmaker with the leftist Democratic Revolution Party, which Mr. Lopez Obrador abandoned in 2012 to create his own party.
Yet this time around, he is also adopting a more moderate tone in the hopes of broadening the appeal of his nationalist movement. He recently appointed Mexican businessmanAlfonso Romo to prepare his campaign platform and economic-policy proposals.
“The goal is to generate trust, we don’t want to trigger instability nor harm rule of law,” said Mr. Romo, the owner of local Vector brokerage firm.
The author of more than a dozen books on Mexican politics and history, Mr. López Obrador has promised to triple growth rates to an annual 6% and broaden welfare plans. He also wants to lower Mexico’s high dependency on U.S. corn and gasoline imports, goals that have been criticized as unrealistic and protectionist.
Mr. Romo said Mr. López Obrador won’t upend economic stability nor interfere with markets should he become a candidate and win the presidency. That includes preserving central bank independence and open capital markets.
One of Mr. López Obrador´s policy proposals is a referendum to overturn Mexico’s historic 2013 opening of the oil industry to private investment. Mr. Romo said existing contracts wouldn’t be canceled, but said they would be renegotiated.
“We can’t breach contracts. I don’t see a new government imposing itself unilaterally,” Mr. Romo added.
Mr. López Obrador has been on a long campaign since 2005, ahead of his first bid for the presidency, which he narrowly lost the following year. He refused to concede defeat and declared himself Mexico’s legitimate president, blocking the capital’s Paseo de La Reforma boulevard for weeks with his supporters. In 2012, he lost to Mr. Peña Nieto by 7 percentage points.
Not everyone is convinced the third time will be a charm for the leftist politician.
“What surveys show at this stage is how well-known a politician is, because there are no formal presidential candidates yet,” said Ulises Beltrán, head of local polling firm BGC. “Mr. López Obrador always begins the race up high because of this factor, and also because of his populist rhetoric. But then his lead tends to narrow as the election nears.”
—Robbie Whelan contributed to this article.