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MEXICO CITY-Ernesto Zedillo Ponce de Leon appeared to have successfully changed his image from nerdy technocrat to savvy politician as Mexican voters headed to the polls Aug. 21.

"Considering his image and lack of charisma, they've done a fairly good job," said Sergio Sarmiento, a TV commentator and columnist. "I don't think you can perform miracles; you have towork with what you've got."

Mr. Zedillo, 42, became the presidential candidate for the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, six days after Luis Donaldo Colosio was assassinated at a March 23 rally in Tijuana.

During five months as the PRI candidate, Mr. Zedillo dramatically improved his public speaking ability. At first, his hand movements and smile were stiff; later they became more fluid and natural looking.

His party also made full use of the media. To create a candidate in Mexico's most contested presidential election ever, the PRI swamped prime time with TV and radio spots and mobilized tens of thousands for rallies.

Mr. Zedillo did a number of one-on-one TV interviews. And the party used the free time granted by TV networks to all political parties to play on Mr. Zedillo's rags-to-riches life story.

An electrician's son, Mr. Zedillo won a scholarship to Yale, where he earned a doctorate in economics.

In TV spots, produced by Alazraki & Asociados, the campaign used a number of strategies. Early on, commercials emphasized Mr. Zedillo's background, but later focused on his plans for the country. In the most recent radio, outdoor and TV effort, voters explained why they were voting for Mr. Zedillo.

The PRI also produced a video about Mr. Zedillo, which it placed in video rental outlets. The video was free, but had to be returned, to people renting a movie.

This year, for the first time, the PRI faced a campaign spending limit of about $40 million. But that dwarfed the resources of Mr. Zedillo's two main competitors.

Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, the candidate of the left-of-center Party of the Democratic Revolution, aired some radio but no TV spots. He relied on old-fashioned stumping, including witty in-house designed posters used at each appearance.

Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, the conservative National Action Party candidate who stunned voters with attacks on his opponents during the campaign's only televised debate in May, managed to maintain a minimal presence on radio and TV. Velazquez Marin & Asociados handles the party's advertising.

A study by the Mexican Human Rights Academy for the watchdog group Civic Alliance found overall PRI TV advertising amounted to $4.96 million between Aug. 1 and Aug. 11, with about $3.35 million for Mr. Zedillo. Mr. Fernandez spent $1.29 million.

The greatest competitor for airtime with Mr. Zedillo was the Federal Electoral Institute, the government body that oversees elections. It took $4.75 million of airtime during the same period for a campaign by DMB&B Mexico to convince voters that elections to replace incumbent Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who is not allowed to succeed himself, would be fair.

The PRI's 65-year hold on political power has long been tainted by fraud allegations, and despite significant reforms this year, voters were unconvinced.

A poll this month for Civic Alliance found 15.2% of the respondents said the elections would be fraudulent and another 38.4% believed they would be "irregular or unclear."

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