The fight for the governorship of Buenos Aires province, the country's largest, is heating up ahead of the August 11 PASO primaries race, where the country will get its first look at the real intention of voters before October's presidential and general elections.
For Governor María Eugenia Vidal, a good result would be a slight difference in numbers between her and her nearest rival, and a victory in the first round of voting to ensure her ally President Mauricio Macri starts his own race on a national level on strong footing.
Vidal faces former Economy minister under Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, Axel Kicillof, as her main competitor, and is aiming for a stronger performance than during the 2017 mid-terms, sources told Perfil.
For his part, Kicillof will seek to shore up support among loyal followers of his political godmother Fernández de Kirchner, whom "Axel has so far not managed to lure", one Greater Buenos Aires mayor told Perfil. Fernández de Kirchner "must transmit all of her votes to him", he said.
In places like the country's largest district La Matanza, Vidal's team would be satisfied with a second-place result against the Peronist with a vote count of around 35 percent, with Vidal's Education minister running as candidate for mayor. Current Mayor Verónica Magario will support Kicillof as his running mate.
La Matanza, which is is part of Greater Buenos Aires, is a key area for campaigning given the concentration of voters. The Vidal government is hoping to increase its vote count in northern and western parts of the region in order to compensate for expected poorer performance in the south, where Peronist candidates tend to perform well.
In areas like San Martín, in the north-west, the Vidal government has its sights on victory. There, Social Development Minister Santiago López Medrano has deployed 400 campaigners each week for activities including door knocking. Born in San Martín, López Medrano joined the JP Jusiticialist (Peronist) Party at an early age. His candidacy for the ruling alliance could see him secure more than 45 percent of the vote, according to polling, though the opposition Frente de Todos (Front for All) led by Peronist Alberto Fernández downplays the possibility incumbent mayor Gabriel Katopodis could lose the district.
"Door to door, we will have to make it clear that the state of our hospitals is deplorable, the insecurity remains high, and Vidal has done nothing but replicate the austerity polities of Macri", Kotapodis said recently. Allied mayors have repeated a similar line in recent weeks: "Vidal is Macri".
Other key district is Ituzaingó where Vidal's candidate Gabriel di Castelnuevo is polling as high as 48 percent, and could win. In Tigre, Segundo Cernadas could poll as high as 40 percent. Among the districts where Vidal allies currently rule, Lanús Mayor Néstor Grindetti and Quilmes Mayor Martiniano Molina could secure re-election with poll numbers of 48 and 44 percent, respectively.
Morón and San Miguel are near shoe-ins for the ruling alliance, with Ramiro Tagliaferro and Jaime Mendéz polling above 50 percent. In Pilar, Nicolás Ducoté faces a tighter race against Peronist Federico Achával. A similar situation is playing out in Hurlingham where Lucas Delfino might struggle to oust incumbent mayor Juan Zabaleta.
Peronists control 58 districts in the province, plus the recent addition of eight more with Sergio Massa confirming his alliance with Alberto Fernández and Cristina Fernández de Kirchner.
Strong polarisation in the electorate could see 80 percent of the vote split between Vidal and Kicillof, according to recent polling, with third-option candidates like those reporting to presidential candidate Roberto Lavagna left to pick up what is left.
Reporting by Rosario Ayerdi and Ezequiel Spilman