EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Mexico in less than 10 months will elect a new president, and polls increasingly point to the new “strong man” being a woman.

That would be a first in a country where little more than two decades ago men and a single political group – the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI – held the power.  

Virtually every political poll for the past two months has favored former Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum by large margins. But the sudden rise of a centrist candidate who barely entered the fray in June foreshadows a very competitive race in 2024, said Tony Payan, director of the Center for the U.S. and Mexico at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy.

“There will likely be two women running for the office, each of them backed by three political parties,” Payan told Border Report this week. “I think Claudia (Sheinbaum) will be the one for the coalition composed of MORENA, the Green Party and the Workers Party that supported President (Andres Manuel) Lopez Obrador” in 2018.

Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum speaks during a rally at the Monumento a la Revolucion square in Mexico City on June 15, 2023. (Photo by CLAUDIO CRUZ/AFP via Getty Images)

According to Payan, Lopez Obrador has shown a preference for Sheinbaum to succeed him despite the president previously saying there would be a primary and he would not interfere. “Save a surprise, which I doubt will happen, she will be the candidate and AMLO wants her to be the candidate. The whole idea of calling for a primary was a charade.”

Nonetheless, several candidates — or pre-candidates, as they are called in Mexico — other than Sheinbaum are making public appearances before crowds almost on a daily basis.

Sheinbaum’s double-digit lead in the Lopez Obrador coalition is holding over hopefuls like former Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard and former Interior Minister Adan Augusto Hernandez.

Sheinbaum, an environmental scientist, appears as a shoo-in to represent the coalition and was on track to making history in Mexican politics until another woman took Mexico political circles by storm, Payan said.

Congresswoman Xochitl Galvez, an opposition presidential hopeful, speaks to the press after registering her name as a candidate, in Mexico City, Tuesday, July 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

Xochitl Galvez is an Indigenous woman from an impoverished town in the state of Hidalgo who went to college over the objections of her alcoholic father, Mexican and U.S. news media have reported. She became an engineer, the owner of a construction company that builds “smart” businesses and went on to become a member of the Mexican Senate. Her first name means “Flower” in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs.

A poll of the candidates in the three-party Frente Amplio por Mexico (FAM) coalition a little more than a week ago gave her a commanding double-digit lead over all other candidates of the opposition. Her closest competitor is another woman, Sen. Beatriz Paredes of the PRI. National Action Party (PAN) stalwart Santiago Creel came in third in the poll, dropped out and endorsed Galvez a few days ago.

On the national stage, she trails Sheinbaum by single digits, according to one of the polls.

“Her candidacy has really, really taken off. She has the right profile: an Indigenous woman who grew up in a poor village and through thick and thin and through very challenging circumstances managed to rise to the very top,” Payan said. “The president is very good at labeling people, disqualifying people as fancy or (aristocrat); she doesn’t fit that mold, she is truly a Mexican success story.”

And while Lopez Obrador ran as a populist and asserts himself well during his signature daily morning news conferences, Sheinbaum has not displayed the same histrionics or level of energy in the campaign trail, the analyst said. Galvez has gained international notoriety mixing humor, passion and even profanity in public appearances.

Tony Payan

“A lot of people who are unhappy with Lopez Obrador and his policies may find in (Galvez) some hope because she’s one of them. We are dealing with identity politics and what better identity for a Mexican than someone who came from an Indigenous, humble background. If anybody can eat away at the president’s base, it is Galvez,” Payan said.

He said he expects Galvez to be backed by the three political parties of FAM (PRI, PAN and the Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD), and possibly a fourth independent party (Movimiento Ciudadano, or MC). Galvez this week met with the governor of Jalisco, a prominent MC leader.

“The race is open, it is a lot more competitive than we expected it to be,” Payan said. “Will Mexico’s next president be a woman? I would say 99.9 percent probability, yes.”