In 2008, less than a year after Kirchner assumed the presidency, she encountered massive protests when her government tried to increase taxes on grain exports. She eventually backed down, but it did not boost her political appeal. Battles with the media erupted, leading to claims she was censoring opponents. Later she slogged through an ongoing scandal over the veracity of national statistics on such measures as inflation, garnering her many critics like Alejandro Prud'homme, an industrial designer in Buenos Aires.
"There's more of a lack of free expression than in previous governments – those who don't like [the government's] way of thinking are generally cut off," he says.
Claims still swirl that she manipulates statistics and the media. But after the devastating midterm loss, a powerful antidote has emerged: the economy. The strength of trading partner Brazil, high commodities prices, and new markets in China have boosted Argentine budgets. With the windfall, Kirchner has invested more heavily in subsidies and social projects, like cash payments to poor mothers with kids. Unemployment is at 7.3 percent, its lowest level in 20 years.
"Everything Cristina has had to deal with have been tests that she overcame, and I think the population has noted this," says Gonzalo Rodríguez, an activist and Kirchner supporter. "She has transformed herself into a great political leader, and I think people realize this, even those who don't like her."
A divided opposition
Like many countries in Latin America, the opposition in Argentina has been unable to unite and field a viable alternative to the incumbent. In primaries in August, Kirchner was the clear front-runner, and polls leading up to the Oct. 23 election showed she could gain more than 50 percent of the vote this month. To win in the first round, a candidate needs 45 percent of the vote or more than 40 percent and be 10 points ahead of the closest contender.