Peña Nieto has failed to provoke any real heartfelt response from the public besides ridicule. A handsome face with a dubious track record as governor of the famously corrupt Estado de México, a state that surrounds Mexico City, Peña Nieto has made blunder after blunder on the campaign trail. His best gaffe: failing to name three books that had influenced his life at the Guadalajara International Book Fair last year. No need for serious concern, however: Peña Nieto appears to be backed by the Televisa conglomerate; his wife is a soap opera star; and the average Mexican only reads one book a year. Barring an AMLO surprise finish (which after 2006, cannot be completely discounted), and in spite of allegations that Televisa sold news and entertainment content to promote Peña Nieto (he denies this and has claimed the documents are fraudulent), he looks likely to take the presidency, even if some critics fear he'll simply be a puppet for the infamous PRI dinosaurs who have run the party for decades.
Josefina Vázquez Mota, meanwhile, is a woman, which could put her in good stead in a country eager for change. A former education secretary, she has good ideas and good credentials. But she's not seen as a political heavyweight, and her statements about the war on organized crime have failed to dazzle. "My conviction is that to confront organized crime, there can be no room for negotiation," she told me in an interview. And so far, Vázquez Mota has delivered her own gaffes to match those of Peña Nieto. On March 30, for instance, she claimed that if elected, she would "strengthen money laundering," a mistake for which she was widely mocked.
While Peña Nieto and Vázquez Mota would likely continue down the same road vis-à-vis U.S. cooperation on the drug war (though they have pledged to scale back the use of the military), there is always the possibility that the leftist AMLO would follow the lead of Bolivia's Evo Morales and expel the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) from the country. But that's unlikely, given that the United States is doing its utmost right now to help Mexico instill peace and governability. The DEA and other U.S. agencies have expanded their presence in Mexico to support both law enforcement and institution-building, moves that have not been met by the traditional jingoistic cries from the Mexican intellectual elite or the left.
This cooperation is starting to show signs of success. The use of U.S. drones in Mexico to gather intelligence on alleged drug kingpins has not caused great outcry. Intelligence sharing continues to result in the capture or killing of major drug lords. There are now two compounds in Mexico City where U.S. military advisors work with their Mexican counterparts; according to diplomats from both sides of the border, relations at 35,000 feet are smooth sailing, in contrast to fiery border rhetoric in Texas and Arizona. The bungled Fast and Furious operation (in which U.S. agents lost track of guns they had bought and allowed into Mexico in a bid to entrap high-level weapons buyers) and the recent case of mistaken identity in the arrest of a used-car salesman thought to be El Chapo's son have been highly embarrassing for authorities on both sides of the border, but are unlikely to unhinge future cooperation.
Perhaps more crucially, from a political point of view, is the reality that the violence has not deterred investors, foreign or domestic, who realize (unfortunately) that a high body count does not necessarily translate to financial losses. Although the violence appears to be everywhere due to massive media attention, it has largely been confined to hot spots that have historically been insecure. (The notable exceptions are Acapulco, where the tourism industry has suffered immensely from drug-related killings, and Monterrey, where business has been adversely affected.) And for all the criticism of his handling of the drug war, few can dispute that Calderón and his economic team averted disaster during the economic crisis. With the violence still feeling remote for many, none of the candidates is likely to deviate significantly from Calderón's tactics.
But Highway 101 is still very much on voters' minds. The site of beheadings and indiscriminate killing in the state of Tamaulipas is now known as the Highway of Death and understandably draws more headlines than the Paseo de la Reforma. But neither of these roads defines the country today. Instead, it's the third road -- the one leading through the hills of Sinaloa to the major smuggling plaza of Ciudad Juárez, a road that will facilitate both international trade and drug trafficking -- that may well be the road to Mexico's future.