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Heartthrob candidate women's choice for Mexican president

A woman kisses Enrique Pena Nieto, presidential candidate of the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), during a political rally in Oaxaca April 10, 2012.

Jorge Luis Plata/ Reuters

Women shout and jostle to get close to Enrique Pena Nieto, mob him for kisses or a hug and snap photographs with the kind of excitement more commonly reserved for teenage heartthrobs than Mexican presidential candidates.

The 45-year-old Mr. Pena Nieto, candidate for the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, is favourite to win Mexico's July 1 presidential election, which for the first time will feature a woman as one of the main contenders.

Women make up a majority of eligible voters, but despite being traditionally sidelined in Mexican politics, they have failed to warm to the only female candidate: Josefina Vazquez Mota of President Felipe Calderon's conservative National Action Party.

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In this strongly Roman Catholic nation, support for the petite 51-year-old mother of three lags far behind that for the telegenic Mr. Pena Nieto, who cheated on his first wife and had two children out of wedlock, later marrying a soap-opera star.

Women are more likely to back Mr. Pena Nieto than Ms. Vazquez Mota by a ratio of eight to five, recent data showed. Men support the PRI candidate over his female rival by a factor of just over two to one.

Both sexes believe Mr. Pena Nieto is more likely to create jobs for the country's growing population and quell the brutal turf wars between drug gangs and the state, which have killed more than 50,000 people in five years. And the fact he is good-looking does no harm either.

"I like the way he expresses himself, how he talks and the projects he has," said Margarita Zuniga, a 43-year-old local government worker in Mexico's second city Guadalajara. "And he is so adorable. You can't deny it," she added, giggling.

After winning the governorship of the State of Mexico in 2005, Mr. Pena Nieto's ready smile, boyish complexion and impeccably coiffed hair began beaming into Mexican homes with the aid of the country's biggest broadcaster, Televisa, where his glamorous second wife, whom he married in 2010, was once under contract.

That wedding after the death of his first wife in 2007 was marketed as a fairy-tale event that helped gild the image of a successful young politician destined for greatness.

Despite a string of gaffes, including his widely mocked struggle to name correctly a single book that had influenced him, his popularity is undimmed.

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