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Mexican presidential election: Why the left is struggling.

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He left Mexico City’s mayoral office with sky-high popularity thanks to social programs, like one that gave pensions to the elderly, and his shepherding of large infrastructure improvements. He is famous for leading mass protests in the name of democracy and social justice, appealing acts given Mexico's relatively recent foray into truly democratic, multi-party governance.

But López Obrador has since become a liability for his party. In 2006 his critics sought to portray him as the region's next Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's populist president. For those who didn't buy it, he later turned them off when he lost the 2006 race, staging a sit-in protest in downtown Mexico City. He refused to recognize the official results, instead declaring himself the nation's “legitimate president,” even holding his own inauguration and setting up an alternate cabinet.

“People don't forget that,” says George Grayson, author of a book on López Obrador titled “Mexican Messiah.”

His polarizing personality also caused deep fissures in his party. “All these divisions are becoming a burden [on] the left,” says Alberto Aziz Nassif, a specialist in democracy and civil society at the Center for Research and Higher Education in Social Anthropology in Mexico City.

Today, even though López Obrador has tried to moderate his message, focusing on creating a “loving republic,” eschewing the confrontational style that he long depended on to rally his base, it has been a struggle to regain lost ground.

More than an image problem

But even if López Obrador weren't the candidate – he competed for the PRD ticket against current Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who is considered less radical – and the party were more unified, the PRD would still have faced a tough race.

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