Mexico following US elections closely

MONTERREY, Mexico — Cecilia Reyes can’t say where the first Democratic caucus was held but knows Hillary Clinton took New Hampshire by three points over her main opponent — whose name she can’t remember but she knows has Kenyan roots. Reyes, a Mexican citizen, can’t vote in November’s U.S. presidential election. But she’s pulling for the former first lady.

“She has a solid social and human background,” said the civil servant, 40. “And she knows about politics.”

Mexico knows politics, too.

Due to the impasse on U.S. immigration reform, recent free trade controversies over beans and corn, and unprecedented Mexican news coverage of the U.S. primaries, Mexico is tuning in — earlier than ever — to the race for the White House.

“We’re following the primaries with attention. And that’s new,” said Roy Campos, president of Consulta Mitofsky, a Mexico City pollster.

Of 10 pedestrians in downtown Monterrey interviewed on a blustery afternoon last week, Reyes was in a class of her own with her knowledge of the primaries and candidates.

Still, eight of the 10 said they knew the U.S. presidential election is this year. Seven named Clinton as one of the contenders, and three could identify Barack Obama, one of her Democratic opponents.

Not one could name a candidate for the Republican nomination, though.

“Democrats have been very popular in Mexico,” said Rogelio Rios, an opinion section editor for El Norte, Monterrey’s largest daily newspaper.

Bill Clinton’s eight-year tenure in the 1990s “was a good period for Mexico,” and many here remember the Clinton-backed Mexico bailout after the 1994 peso collapse, Rios said.

The economic prosperity of the Clinton years spilled into Mexico, while the risks for undocumented immigrants worsened during the George W. Bush years — a big consideration, since Mexicans working in the United States now send home more than $20 billion a year to help out their families.

Nine respondents in the informal street survey said immigration was the most important bilateral issue.

Almost half of Mexicans have a family member in the United States, according to an IPSOS-Bimsa/El Universal poll carried out last year, and Mexicans are genuinely frustrated by lack of progress on the immigration issue — and angered by evening newscasts about violence toward migrants.

“It was a very marked anti-immigration tendency,” Isaías Villalobos, 30, a franchise restaurant operator, said of the outgoing administration. “I hope there is change in the United States.”

Mexican news organizations are running primary and caucus results on their front pages and evening newscasts.

Grupo Reforma, El Norte’s parent company, last week launched a blog by an international affairs columnist, providing a running commentary on the candidates and process.

One reason for the coverage is the diverse backgrounds of the candidates, said Leo Zuckermann, a political scientist at CIDE, a Mexico City university.

“We’re seeing a mosaic of possibilities that have not been the traditional ones in the United States,” Zuckermann said. “I think that has awoken a greater interest, at least among the media.”

Back in Monterrey, security guard Candelario Alvarado said the newscasts on the primaries pass quickly, but he watches them. He said he’d recognize Hillary Clinton’s opponent if he saw his face, but he couldn’t remember his name.

Alvarado, 58, has followed U.S. politics since John F. Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 and can’t understand the need for a U.S. border fence or U.S. war expenditures.

He hopes the immigration issue is sorted out “for the economic benefit of both countries.”

“What we want is more tranquility,” Alvarado said. “Whoever wins.