Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Pro take: Samuel García and the 2024 presidential race

It is hard to measure the right dose of ambition. And ambition in politics is even more delicate — both essential, and dangerously easy to overdose.

Samuel García, Nuevo León’s young, media-savvy governor, seems to be guzzling the stuff. 

While earlier this year García had laid to rest rumors about a run for president as the candidate for the Citizens Movement (MC) party after all, he’s only 35, has an eight-month-old daughter and was elected to govern Nuevo León until 2027 today he launched his 2024 pre-campaign tour of the country, with wife Mariana Rodríguez and baby Mariel in tow.

On Oct. 23, García officially requested temporary leave from his governorship to pursue the nomination, and while a political spat ensued with his PAN and PRI political rivals in the state Congress, García came out on top. 

In fact, as of this weekend, it would appear García no longer has to compete with other possible MC candidates since he was registered by the party as their sole “pre-candidate” for next year’s election. 

What does García’s candidacy mean for the presidential election? Does he stand a chance of winning? And if not, will his campaign hurt Gálvez or Sheinbaum more?

Who would vote for García?

Before García made his announcement, various opinion polls included him in the lineup of possible 2024 candidates and he had averaged around 7-9% of voter intent. This puts him in third place, trailing behind Claudia Sheinbaum and Xóchitl Gálvez. 

As he is eager to point out, he came up from fourth place in the Nuevo León gubernatorial election of 2021 to win with 36.71% of the vote. He appealed to younger voters, relying on a clever social media strategy along with his influencer wife, and promising to shake up the state’s politics. 

However, the party García represents is still a minor player in national politics that received 7% of the vote nationwide in the 2021 federal elections. Citizens Movement (MC) is a center-left party with just 39 seats in Congress (12 senators and 27 deputies), compared to Morena’s 261 seats. But the party has punched above its weight in the national political conversation, partly because of winning the governorships of two populous and economically significant states: Jalisco (Governor Enrique Alfaro) and Nuevo León.

Since García’s victory, Nuevo León has been the beneficiary of increased nearshoring foreign direct investment (FDI) not surprising given its long-standing industrial economy and proximity to the United States. García has focused on investment as one of the pillars of his government —  and has traveled to Europe, Asia and the U.S. to spread the gospel of Nuevo León. The March announcement that Tesla will build a US $5 billion to -$10 billion gigafactory in the state was one of García’s most prominent investment achievements to date.

However, though industrial expansion continues in the state, it has also struggled with increasing violence. In September, Nuevo León reached a rate of 18 murders a day, its highest level this year and since 2021, homicides have increased by 32%.

García would seem to attract the young middle to upper class voter who is socially liberal, but uncomfortable with López Obrador’s statist policies. However, his brash norteño persona and Instagrammable lifestyle could fall fiercely flat in the country’s poorer, more rural and more Indigenous south. He may find he feels more out of place when stopping in Chiapas on his pre-campaign tour, than on his recent visits to South Korea and Japan.

Would García pull voters from Sheinbaum or from Gálvez?

For some of the reasons mentioned above, García seems unlikely to lure even disillusioned morenistas, though he has been careful not to alienate AMLO, taking a different approach than the Broad Front for Mexico (FAM) frontal assault on the popular president. In fact, he focuses many of his jabs at the parties that Gálvez represents, as embodying “old politics.”.

When asked point blank by TV anchor Ciro Gómez Leyva if he agreed with PRI president Alejandro Moreno’s statement that “Morena is a disaster for the country”, García said that while Mexico could be “much better” and that this government has “many areas of opportunity”, he avoided an outright takedown of the ruling party. He did, however, say that Mexico cannot go back to the rule of the PAN and PRI, who “already cheated us.”

On Nov. 8, García posted to his X account supporting the president’s grand plans for reviving passenger trains in Mexico, adding that he had talked about a train route from Monterrey to Texas with the mayor of Laredo. For his part, AMLO said at a recent mañanera press conference that he “always wishes the best for Samuel.”

The voter demographic that supports the PAN-PRI-PRD alliance seems to overlap with the possible García voter, and while Xóchitl too has charisma, her flustered affability may look weak next to the Garcías’ sleek, “we-get-things-done” discourse. 

But would García garner the female vote in a race against two women? 

He has been careful to include Mariana in his appearances though in his official announcement video (see below), she looks less than enthused and speaks often of their joint accomplishments. When he officially registered on Nov. 12, his baby daughter was also there, bouncing on her mother’s lap. He also boasts of creating the first cabinet in Nuevo León’s history with more women than men.

García has very slim chances in the 2024 election, but his candidacy should make the PAN-PRI-PRD leadership nervous. Already at a disadvantage in the polls against Morena, their slice of the electorate could get further cut down by this rival.

Time will tell where García’s ambition leads, but it seems likely he will be a player in the Mexican political game for years to come.

Kate Bohné is chief news editor at Mexico News Daily. You can find her writing on The Mexpatriate.

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