'Fox Fox Fox Fox FOX FOX FOX FOX!" You know who they're yelling about: he's the granite-jawed guy standing above everybody else in the hall. Vicente Fox Quesada. Over six feet tall -- and, some will tell you, the sexiest candidate for the leadership of Mexico, since, well, Emiliano Zapata.

"For women, he is an attractive candidate, very tall, very macho," says David Shirk, a UCSD graduate student who has written a thesis on Fox's party, the National Action Party (PAN). "He has that macho image. That mustache [makes him] a very traditional Mexican male figure.

"!Arriba el PAN!" (Up with PAN!) yells an eight-year-old girl into the microphone. "!Arriba!"

The crowd roars it back. Hundreds of splayed fingers poke the air in a "V for vic- tory" sign. Blue-and-white banners and flags wave around the room, silhouetted by the setting sun. This rally appears to be kicking off a roller-coaster election season in Tijuana. Vicente Fox leads the most significant attack on the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) in its more than 60 years of power. Of course, this ex-governor of Guanajuato state represents the party of counterrevolution. Until its remarkable growth in the past two decades, the PAN had eked out a marginal existence ever since it was created in 1939. It is pro-business, pro-individualism, supportive of a transparent democratic process, and conservative with a small "c." Fox, they say, is at once PAN's greatest hope and its least PANista member.

I've come here with Shirk and Tijuana's ex-mayor, Héctor Osuna Jaime, also a PANista, who has been helping Shirk with his thesis. The cops, half of them in black bulletproof vests, are all over Gustavo Díaz Ordaz Boulevard as we drive up to the Salón Alba Roja around 3:00 p.m. A roadblock has been set up. You can't help thinking back to the Tijuana presidential campaign of Luis Donaldo Colosio, which ended in his shooting death in the middle of a campaign speech on March 23, 1994.

We join a line of a few hundred people snaking down toward the '60s-moderne building, painted yellow with mauve concrete pillars.

Ironically, for pro-business PAN, it's a union building. Also ironic: it's called "the white-red salon" (PAN's colors are white and blue). Trumpet music drifts out of the building. Upstairs and inside, the music blares. Hundreds of people stand around in groups, some smoking, holding blue-and-white PAN banners. I notice Osuna wears a "Fox 2000" pin on his shirt. PAN and Fox T-shirts are for sale. Many other people sit at round tables eating tamales, the food du jour: PAN is respecting the Dia de la Candelaria, or Candlemas, a day on which church candles are blessed.

"Fox! I want to tell you something." It's another young girl at the microphone. Her voice booms. "My dad is a police officer. He was a PRI supporter when he joined the force. But when the PAN came in, they provided him with a weapon. They provided him with his own patrol car. He didn't have to find these things for himself anymore. Since the PAN has come in, my father is with the PAN!"

The cheers echo out around the hall. The event has been billed as a diálogo ciudadano -- a "town meeting" with Fox, to give him input on campaign issues.

But before most get their chance, Fox outlines what he wants: "Today," he booms, "we are five months away from [presidential election day] the second of July. We don't have any more time to lose. The time has come to put forth our ideas and our strength to build ourselves a marvelous Mexico. I have come here to join forces with you, arm in arm. I'm getting my trinchera -- foxhole -- ready. And we are not alone. We can see how Veracruz has woken up. How the state of Mexico has woken up. How Chiapas has woken up.... I will dedicate every second, every moment of my time to fight for a better Mexico...but I need you to put your pants and your skirts into it. I want you to accompany me in ending corruption and deceit, engaño. And to make an education revolution! When only 5 of every 100 children have the chance to reach university, things must change! That is our great responsibility."

Fox says Mexico is capable of an annual growth of 7 percent, up from the average 2 percent he says has been Mexico's average recently under PRI. He wants better wages, he wants an end to "presidentialism," where power is concentrated around the Mexican White House, Los Pinos, and in the federal government. He wants to decentralize power, create a new "federalism" where states essentially control their own economies. He speaks passionately and precisely. There are no hesitations. Not only that, but unlike the candidates campaigning north of the border, or even Mexico's President Zedillo, Fox has a great sense of oratory, a seductive command, an aura of the caudillo (charismatic leader). He's not just horse-trading promises, he's carrying on a crusade.

The cowboy boots and the engraved belt buckle signal his accessibility. And when he targets the drug trade, the roar of the crowd becomes greatest.

"The [present government] talks about the lack of safety in Baja California. They talk about narco-traffickers and organized crime. Narco-trafficking and organized crime are federal crimes. Those are the federal government's [responsibility]. This is an affair they have not resolved because they are part of the problem. Because within the federal government there is narco-trafficker influence.... Raúl Salinas, Mario Villanueva, other people from Culiacán and other cities -- there are murderers in our government making themselves rich!"

Hooting, cheers, and claps thunder out. But some people look around, a little nervous. Maybe they remember Colosio.

Fox is unfazed. "For these reasons they don't want us to win. [But] they know we're going to kick them out of Los Pinos on the second of July. They know we are going to build a great nation, a triumphant country."

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