Josefina Vazquez Mota is the first woman to lead one of Mexico's main political parties. Rather than being seen as a trailblazing feminist and successful economist, Mota is associated in the minds of many voters with Mexico's bloody battle against drug cartels.
As leader of the governing National Action Party (PAN), Mota, 51, has had to explain the decision of Mexico's current president, Felipe Calderon, to send the army to fight drug cartels in a war that has cost more than 50,000 lives. Her party is running a distant third in the lead-up to the presidential election on July 1.
"Calderon had no choice at the outset but to use the military, but he continued to use the broadsword and never developed much proficiency with a scalpel," George Grayson, author of several other books on the drug war including Mexico: Narco Violence and a Failed State, told Al Jazeera.
Mota did not have Calderon's support when she ran for the PAN's top job. She has tried to differentiate herself from the current president, promising to root out corruption and improve the justice system, rather than just focussing on fighting cartels and seizing drugs.
She wants to create a "national militarised police" who can "protect families when local authorities are not assuming that responsibility", and - eventually - she wants the army to stop patrolling city streets.
'Education and social development'
Born in Mexico City, Mota has seven siblings. She studied economics at Universidad Iberoamericana, one of Mexico's top universities, and was appointed Minister of Social Development in 2000 by newly elected PAN President Vicente Fox. For his part, Fox has said Mota could only win if there were a "miracle".
She has called education her top priority, and wants to see more children attend secondary school and better training for teachers. Mexican teachers have been known to sell their unionised positions for life to the highest bidder, rather than allowing the jobs to go to qualified people.
"I have been able to head two of the most important ministries in my country: education and social development. In both I have accomplished important results," she told the Washington Post in May.
Married with three children, she is the author of the bestselling book Dear God Please Make Me a Widow, which urges women to take control over their lives. Now she campaigns under posters reading "Dear God Please Make Me President".
Supporters see Mota as part of a new wave of female politicians across Latin America, including Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet. Despite being the first woman to lead a major party in Mexico, Mota is not necessarily popular with feminists.
"Even though her party has recently been characterised for opening more political space for women than any other major party in Mexico, she has been identified, especially from extreme liberal and feminist groups… as not representative of their interests," said Antonio de la Cuesta, political researcher at CIDAC (Centro de Investigacion para el Desarrollo), a market-oriented think-tank in Mexico City.
In one of her TV advertisements, Mota says she wears a skirt, but will govern wearing pants. She has been aggressive in televised debates, criticising both her opponents.
While she wants to see significant changes in education, "the PAN economic platform represents continuity of economic policies that have been implemented in Mexico since the middle 1980s", de la Cuesta told Al Jazeera. In the unlikely event she is elected, Mexico's first female president would be expected to continue to focus on opening markets to trade and attracting foreign investment.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies