Mexico presidential campaign hangs a left at the infomercial

Lopez Obrador sells himself in weekday 30-minute spots

MEXICO CITY — Forget the usual kitchen appliance infomercials. One of the candidates in Mexico’s July presidential election is getting around political broadcast rules by selling himself in weekday 30-minute spots.

The novel stunt is backed by helmer Luis Mandoki (“Voces inocentes”), who will produce weekly segments on the Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador infomercials, airing at 6 a.m. on TV Azteca.

Mexico City’s former left-leaning mayor last week bowed the first spot, following his daily grind on the campaign trail for the Democratic Revolution Party, the third largest party.In addition to segments by Mandoki, the campaign has enlisted the production team of respected radio and TV journalist Ricardo Rocha to put the show together.

Mandoki, who worked in Hollywood for 16 years, began to film a documentary about Lopez Obrador in 2004.

He was at first skeptical of the quixotic leftist who lived in a middle-class neighborhood. But soon he came to believe that the former indigenous-rights activist was a truly honest politician amid Mexico’s crew of corrupt cronies.

“He gave me final cut on my footage,” Mandoki says. “I went to the other candidates to see if they would let me film them as well, but it was the opposite, they wanted letters from me saying they would have final cut.”

Mandoki eventually decided that his project had to get out before the election, not after, as originally planned — and agreed to contribute to the infomercial.

Mexico’s duopoly of Televisa and its smaller rival TV Azteca earn big bucks from the campaign season. Televisa, which draws well over two-thirds of the nation’s viewers, is expected to earn roughly $77 million from political parties in the coming months.

Mexico’s electoral institute has set the spending limit for each candidate at 651.4 million pesos ($61.6 million) in the 2006 elections. Traditionally, approximately 70% is spent on radio and TV advertising.

Lopez Obrador doesn’t have the funds to compete with the two major parties in a primetime war. But the coin will stretch to the more economical infomercial rates.

However, spots only go so far for candidates. Political scientist Jose Crespo says Lopez Obrador’s stunt was an ingenious ploy to get him back in the news.

While mayor, Lopez Obrador was frequently on the TV news. This is credited in no small part with his current standing as the candidate to beat in July’s poll.

However, since resigning last year to pursue his candidacy, Lopez Obrador has fallen out of the news crews’ focus, and his poll numbers have started to slide.

“Not many people will watch at 6 a.m., but journalists will, and he will get back into the daily TV newscasts,” Crespo says.

The prospect of a Lopez Obrador victory doesn’t settle well with many among the nation’s elite or observers on Wall Street.

Mainstream media have compared his with Venezuela’s radical Hugo Chavez — a comparison that makes the candidate bristle.

“There are so many rumors out there, I wanted to show the human side of the man that I have been able to see through our conversations,”  Mandoki says. “Mexico is at a historical point. There has never been a politician like this and I felt it had to be documented.”

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