With Mexico’s presidential election just three months away, one thing is clear: The candidate for the governing party appears to be running away with it.

Claudia Sheinbaum, a physicist and protégée of the current president, holds a commanding lead of about 30 percentage points in the polls over the opposition’s Xóchitl Gálvez, a tech entrepreneur, as campaigning officially starts on Friday.

Playing it safe at a time when the departing president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, remains broadly popular, Ms. Sheinbaum has kept so closely to his policies and persona that she not only vows to adopt his priorities, she also sometimes imitates his slow-paced way of talking in appearances across the country.

But while Ms. Sheinbaum’s exceptionally disciplined campaign has cemented her front-runner status, the candidate who could be Mexico’s first female president remains something of an enigma to many Mexicans.

“Claudia Sheinbaum is still the great mystery of this election,” said Jesús Silva-Herzog Márquez, a political scientist at Mexico’s Monterrey Institute of Technology. “We know she’s a scientist with a different way of thinking. Sooner or later she’ll have to remove her mask showing her as the mimic of López Obrador.”

For now, the race highlights how Mr. López Obrador, a combative politician blending leftist and nationalist rhetoric with policies that are socially, environmentally and fiscally conservative, has so dominated Mexican politics since taking office in 2018 that a splintered opposition is struggling to find its footing against his would-be successor.


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