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Cristina Fernandez: Argentina on right track, turnout strong. Polls suggest easy re-election
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) ' President Cristina Fernandez on the right track Sunday as she aimed for a landslide re-election victory over six rivals.
If she does win, she'll be the first woman re-elected as president in Latin America. But it also will be a bittersweet victory for Fernandez, her first in a lifetime of politics without her husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, who died of a heart attack last Oct. 27.
Her voice almost broke as she spoke about this legacy, describing a mixture of pride and sorrow after casting her ballot in his hometown, the remote Patagonian city of Rio Gallegos. "In this world where they have criticized us so forcefully, all this makes me feel very proud, that we're on the right track," she said. Kirchner "would be very content."
Fernandez can win with as little as 40 percent of the vote if none of her rivals comes within 10 percentage points of her, but the latest polls suggested she could capture between 52 percent and 57 percent of votes.
Also at stake is control of congress, with 130 lower house seats and 24 senate seats in play.
Fernandez's poll numbers had dipped during the early years of her presidency, but she has reversed the negative numbers as a widow, softening her usually combative tone and proving her ability to govern on her own by ensuring loyalty or respect from an unruly political elite.
Many Argentines in pre-election polls said they would vote for her because their financial situations have improved as the country's economy continues one of its longest spells of economic growth in history.
If trends hold, Fernandez could receive a larger share of votes than any president since Argentina's democracy was restored in 1983, when Raul Alfonsin was elected with 52 percent, and more than anyone since her populist hero, Juan Domingo Peron, won with 60 and 63 percent in his last two elections.
Her Front for Victory coalition also hoped to regain enough seats in Congress to form new alliances and regain the control it lost in 2009.
Fernandez, 58, chose her youthful, guitar-playing, long-haired economy minister, Amado Boudou, as her running mate. Together, the pair championed Argentina's approach to the global financial crisis: Increase government spending rather than impose austerity measures, and force investors in foreign debt to suffer before ordinary citizens.
Argentina has been closed off from most international lending since declaring its world-record debt default in 2001, but has been able to sustain booming growth ever since.
The country faces tough challenges in 2012, however. Its commodities exports are vulnerable to a global recession, and economic growth is forecast to slow sharply in the coming year. Declining revenues will make it harder to raise incomes to keep up with inflation. Argentina's central bank is under pressure to spend reserves to maintain the peso's value against the dollar, while also guarding against currency shocks that could threaten Argentina's all-important trade with Brazil.
If his ticket wins, Boudou could win attention as a potential successor to Fernandez, but navigating these storms will require much skill and good fortune.
Fernandez's rivals also voted early. They include Hermes Binner, 68, a doctor and socialist governor of Santa Fe province; Ricardo Alfonsin, 59, a lawyer and congressional deputy with the traditional Radical Civic Union party and son of the former president; Alberto Rodriguez Saa, 52, an attorney and governor of San Luis province whose brother Adolfo was president for a week; Eduardo Duhalde, who preceded Kirchner as president; leftist former lawmaker Jorge Altamira, 69, and Elisa Carrio 54, a congresswoman who came in second behind Fernandez four years ago but trailed the field this time.
Voting is obligatory in Argentina, and nearly 29 million citizens among the 40 million population are registered. Fernandez said Interior Minister Florencio Randazzo, who is responsible for managing the election process, told her that turnout was strong and everything going smoothly.
"I've been a political activist my whole life, but I haven't always been able to vote," Fernandez said, referring to the 1966-1973 and 1976-1983 dictatorships, which tried and failed to eliminate Peronism as an electoral force. "To be able to vote freely in the Argentine republic is an achievement."