Wealthy businessman takes on Argentina’s Kirchner in mid-term vote

June 17, 2009

A wealthy businessman and critic of President Cristina Fernandez is spending millions of dollars in his own money to win the biggest race in Argentina’s upcoming mid-term elections.

Polls show Francisco de Narvaez, who leads a congressional ticket for a dissident faction of the ruling Peronist party, in a close race against Fernandez’s husband, former President Nestor Kirchner, who is widely seen as the government’s top political and economic strategist.

Both are bidding for a congressional seat from Buenos Aires province, Argentina’s largest and most populous, in a vote that will define to what extent the Kirchners keep their grip on the governing party through 2011 presidential elections.

Fernandez is expected to lose her congressional majority in the June 28th balloting.

Little-known politically only months ago, de Narvaez has raised his profile by spending heavily on television advertising and using his wealth to lead one of the most technologically modern campaigns in Argentine history.

De Narvaez, who was born in Colombia and is known for a tattoo spread across his neck, has said he plans to spend up to the $4 million limit allowed under Argentine campaign finance laws — virtually all of it out of his own pocket.

He has spent an additional undisclosed amount on a mass marketing campaign before the campaign formally got underway.

A member of an Argentine family that sold a popular supermarket chain it once owned for $600 million in the late 1990s, de Narvaez has used the Internet and employed his own video production crew to bolster his campaign.

It has also helped him that the Kirchners are struggling with slumping popularity ratings.

A center-right candidate, de Narvaez has campaigned on fighting crime and criticizing the governing style of the Kirchners as confrontational and authoritarian.

Kirchner has lashed out at de Narvaez’s campaign, saying he is looking to buy his way into a more prominent role in politics.

But his campaign is shaking up the Buenos Aires province race, and at least one poll last week showed him holding a slight lead over Kirchner.

Photo credit: REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci -  Francisco de Narvaez gestures during an interview at his campaign headquarters in Buenos Aires, May 4, 2009

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